September 15, 2021

Jessica Rabbit Swings Again!

Once again, Jessica Rabbit is causing an uproar among Disney fans. First, it was her debut in 1988 with the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I mean, do women really look like that? (The answer is "Yes" if you watch reality television and see the work of Hollywood's worst plastic surgeons or get a look at Megan Fox.) Then, it was her more than lifelike size image rocking Walt Disney World's adult playground Pleasure Island- leg swinging and all. Must admit, it was striking! (Photo by yours truly. See more photos of Pleasure Island in its heyday here.)

Now in 2021, in the years of re-envisioning everything, her presence in Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin in Disneyland signifies yet another  new politically correct story line: Jessica as private detective. We all know Roger is bumbling and in need of help, but did they really need to change the story of the ride? Are those mandating the change that insecure they can't visit Walt's castle park and just have fun? I guess so. They need to watch the film and see just how self-sufficient and savvy a beautiful cartoon woman can be. Or meet the real women in my world.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 14, 2021

Universal Now Gets One Third of Our Walt Disney World Trip

Yes, that's right- the tide has turned! Universal Orlando is now truly a destination resort in its own right and not just a one day visit. One third of our trip will be off the Walt Disney World property, and the truth be known, I'm pretty excited about it! Islands of Adventure has always been a great park. The Studios not so much but with recent additions themed to Harry Potter, it's quickly getting better and better. 

I'm looking forward to two restaurants, one at City Walk, the other within Islands of Adventure: Both Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Mythos look terrific. Now Universal has to up their game in the dining options if it is going to win the crown from Disney Springs. Yet, in years past, we've not even considered Universal for our Florida trips but with one exception- a solo trip where I just took in Islands.

The Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and especially Epcot will always hold a special place in my heart, but times change, and I'm tired of the deconstruction of what made Walt Disney World so special. Now, everything is difficult and must be planned in advance. Limited reservations for must see attractions smack of elitism, and the decline of excellent service that justified those high resort and ticket prices has brought me to the tipping point. 

Will we go back to Disney? Probably as we have one more family to visit with. Will Universal continue to win more days? Absolutely! Once Incredible Universe opens, the scales will tip to even more days there- and maybe more than at Disney World!

(Image copyright Universal Orlando.)

September 13, 2021


Forgive the self indulgence here. This recent snapshot of me and my bride has special meaning as it was taken at our son's wedding. There are so few times I am relatively happy with a photo of me. Now, on the other hand, my wife is as beautiful as ever- maybe even more so...

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 11, 2021

What We Gained on September 11, 2001

Twenty years ago. This was a day of immense tragedy, but it was also a day for heroism!  Radical Islam extremists decided to attack us, the United States of America on September 11, 2001. We as a nation lost so much, but what did we gain? We as a people rallied together. People of all faiths and backgrounds. We came together to grieve together and pray together.

Yet slaughter continues in other places at the hands of Radical Islam. Christians overseas are being persecuted, denied basic rights or even slaughtered- Christians of all different nationalities - those in Afghanistan, regions in Africa, Asia, and even in Mexico. (Don't believe me about Mexico? Read this or this.) Children, infants, women and men alike. It's shocking we don't read about that, but it happens. It's a different kind of war that devastates. 

Let us remember this day. Let us pray for our nation and our world. We should remember the sacrifices of those serving,  the loss of family and friends. Let us honor those who gave their lives. Let us work together to preserve our God-given freedoms. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us and do not judge us according to what our sins deserve- either as a nation or as an individuals!


September 7, 2021

The Other Side of Epcot

While most theme park fans are focusing on the re-envisioning of Epcot with an eye toward Future World, especially the area around Spaceship Earth and the new roller coaster Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, I'm taking a particular interest to what is happening on the other side of the park in World Showcase. Since the demise of attractions such as Horizons, World of Motion, and especially Journey into Imagination, that side of the park has lost its luster, but World Showcase has become even more special and noteworthy. Inside the China pavilion, the House of the Whispering Willows might have the Shanghai Disney Resort preview center there now, but it used to highlight cultural artifacts- like the official reproductions of the famous Terra Cotta Warriors. The photo was taken by yours truly back in 2007, long before I saw the real ones in Asia.

These figures show the other side of Epcot, the charming and often more interesting but cultural sides of the countries represented. Wandering through each shop and gallery meant exploration and discovery. This went beyond characters and thrills, and they were pieces of an Epcot experience my family past and present loved. The Imagineers took us beyond the norm at Epcot. We may not be shrunk to the size of a rat or sent off on an adventure with Anna and Elsa, but the real life journeys of discovery were every bit as powerful. Will Remy's Ratatouille Adventure be as beloved and entrancing as Mexico's original El Rio del Tiempo or as thought provoking and inspirational as The American Adventure? I guess it all depends on your expectation of Disney's second Florida park. I for one wish they would have stayed true to its original vision. That said, I'll always find something to love there. So maybe I am the park guest Imagineer Zach Riddley and company are looking for.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 6, 2021

New Music and A New Book from Richard Carpenter

When it rains, it pours! In this case, it's not Rainy Days and Mondays, but it is a brand new album by Richard Carpenter to go with his upcoming book Carpenters: The Musical Legacy by he and authors Chris May and Mike Cidoni-Lennox. This book explores the musical history of the Carpenters and that wonderful voice of the much loved and missed Karen Carpenter. A&M Record artist and mainstay at Top 40 radio, the duo amassed gold record after gold record and legions of fans from all over the world. 

September 3, 2021

Disney Dinos and More Disney Dinos

Disney is famous for adding dinosaurs into their parks in all shapes, sizes, and in multiple types of experiences. I stumbled upon this piece of concept art by the original Imagineers for EPCOT Center's Future World pavilion, the surprising and incredible Universe of Energy. For those who weren't fortunate to ride the original, the moment when the theater cars split and turn into ride vehicles was a "Wow!" moment to rival anything else in the park. And then, the dinosaurs!

Now, it will be interesting to see if the long delayed Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind even mention the beasts. But don't be dismayed if they don't. You can find all of your Disney Dinos from all over the world right here.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 2, 2021

It's Finally No Time to Die, 007!

There's no question it will be worth the wait! The James Bond / 007 for the new century is easily Daniel Craig- and his last film, No Time to Die arrives this October. Who can pass this up? Not me.

This Bond is low on humor but big on angst. Perfect reflection of our times, don't you think?

(Top Image credit: Danjaq/ LLC / MGM/ Nicola Dove)

September 1, 2021

Star Wars:Galaxy's Edge Traveler's Guide

After missing the opening of Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios by a matter of days, our next trip would not be subject to missing out! A year and a few months later- long story - we'd find ourselves back at Walt Disney World with a different daughter and her family. And this time, it meant an opportunity to experience Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge for ourselves!

What you're looking at is the Traveler's Guide that they gave out at the gate. A little waterlogged, but nonetheless, still quite an enjoyable souvenir. Millenium Falcon: Smuggler's Run was a big hit for everyone but especially the littlest passengers. Oga's Cantina was not to be visited, and we didn't build our own light sabers at Savi's Workshop, but a visit to Droid Depot was a must. The little boys saved their hard earned money to buy one (with a very tiny bit of help.

Rise of the Resistance wasn't open- but it is waiting for us this trip. By God's grace and a dash of pixie dust, here's hoping it happens this coming trip. Based on recent wait times, it may be a reality!

August 29, 2021

Eye Refresher

A lazy Sunday afternoon, and in the heat of the day, my eyes needed a little refresher. Something to wake me up and remind me of the beauty that God creates- even in the midst of a messed up world in need of Him.

(Photographer unknown.)

August 27, 2021

Dine or Ditch: The Land's Garden Grill aka Land Grille Room aka The Good Turn

The next restaurant to be reviewed in the Dine or Ditch series is one of our family's favorites... and one we unfortunately outgrew and now decide to pass on in favor of something different. Will your family experience the same curve of then dine, now ditch? Keep reading.

As the premier Future World restaurant- sorry Coral Reef- this dining establishment in The Land is immediately recognizable and almost immediately desired. Every guest heading downstairs to Soarin' Around the World or Living with the Land (and at opening, the Audio-Animatronic musical Kitchen Kabaret), must pass by this slowly revolving eatery. Talk about product placement!

Looks great from far away.
But the close up view pulls you in!

Are you confused by all the names? This popular Epcot staple was once known as The Good Turn (at park opening), then the Land Grille Room (1986), later the Garden Grill (1993), and then whatever name is next for the upcoming rebirth of Epcot 2.0 and that incarnation. 

Once The Good Turn was the place to begin our day at EPCOT Center. Breakfast was great with numerous fresh options, filling, and for Disney, it was relatively affordable. Currently, this location is home to Chip 'n' Dale's Harvest Feast, a character dining option that also brings Mickey and friends in farmer garb. This means it is pricey, with limited seating, and difficult to reserve.

My shot from 1983.

Yet, the place has its charms and offers an experience only Disney can deliver! As your table continues revolving, once at the back side of the restaurant, diners are greeted with an exclusive view of a beautifully realized farm scene from the Living with the Land boat ride. (Not counting the sponsor lounge that does offer the same kind of view.) At this point, the atmosphere changes from bright and lively to darker and intimate. Watching the boats glide by and listening to the sounds of a family farm at dawn cannot be replicated in real life. Pure magic! 

Our growing family of preschool kids really enjoyed this place back in 1989. The adventures of EPCOT Center, both in Future World and World Showcaseand this restaurant were more than enough to keep them interested for a full day. The Disney characters and excessive marketing tie-ins didn't need to be there to keep their attention.

Of all the on property character dining experiences, this location has the fewest number of seats, making more face to face time with the rubber heads a big draw in favor of eating here. Chip and Dale, Mickey, and usually Pluto, are found making the rounds. Pretty popular characters in a smaller setting equals better opportunities for those family memories captured by your camera. When character dining moved in, this was about the time Garden Grill moved from a dine to a ditch. (Same for the Crystal Palace, by the way.)

In line with the trendy concept of farm to table dining, much of the food comes right the pavilion's attached greenhouses. The quality and quantity is top notch, almost universally rated so by those who indulge. Also in line with farm to table, the prices reflect the trend. For a child, a $40 meal is a splurge of the highest kind, an amount that can feed an entire family for a week or more in most of the world's poorer countries. At $60 an adult, diners are paying top price for the experience, not that much less than some of Walt Disney World's better dining locations. Is it worth it? Or is it worth forgoing in favor of more time on rides like Test Track and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure? Or do you skip it in favor of a meal at the ultra pricy Space 220?

A Few Tips:
Use the Disney Dining Plan when it's offered again. IF it is offered again. The "bite" doesn't seem too hard to take when you've already decided that the best dining experiences are worth it when on vacation.

Try to obtain the reservation you want by getting on line early and/or try again up until departure date. Do you plan your Lightning Lane (Fast Pass) attractions when offered again first, or are the restaurant choices top priority? Balancing that is a tough call in this era of Disney. Keep checking availability on the Disney Genie ServiceMy Disney Experience App once you arrive on the Walt Disney World property if you haven't been able to get the exact day and time you want. (I gotta ask- Is it all worth it? I guess it must be!)

Dine or Ditch for Garden Grill?  It all depends on what a day at Epcot means to you! Want a taste of EPCOT Center or an intimate character dining experience? It's a "Dine". Running from ride to ride to get it all in? Or not a character dining fan? A clear "Ditch".

Want more Dine or Ditch?
Check out these reviews:

(Photographs copyright the Walt Disney Company.)

August 25, 2021

The Challenge for Those Who Call Themselves Followers of Jesus

Imagine being one who follows Jesus Christ and has agreed to live for him and his purposes. Now, imagine being one of these Christ followers in Afghanistan under the wicked and brutal rule of the Taliban. There's a mark on your life, a call to die. 

Makes me think a lot about what it really means to be a Christian. God doesn't change his personality or character or commands based on what culture we in live or what the politics of the day proclaim. It has to mean the same thing to follow Jesus everywhere- a call to self-sacrifice and a call to live as He commands. All in exchange for eternal life instead of a life separated from God in a very real Hell.

So what does it mean to be a Christian as God defines it? 

Believing that God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for our sins. Believing Jesus died and was resurrected proving He is God. Not a created being, not a man, but God in the flesh. For our lives, it means to turn away from what God defines as sin and to turn toward Him. This new life means bringing God glory, worshiping Him, and walking away from our old life and choosing His priorities as citizens of a heavenly kingdom. All by the power of His Holy Spirit who lives inside of every true believer.

Say goodbye to the pursuit of endless pleasures, of the love of money, power, position, and sex without boundaries. Still interested in calling yourself by the name His Name? 

We Christians are called to be like a grain of wheat. Jesus' own words to His followers are these:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
John 12:24

This dying to self means a deep joy however! As we give up worldly pursuits and pleasures and trust in man's ways and thinking and embrace God's thoughts and his laws as defined by a divinely inspired, unchanging Bible, He transforms us continually into Christlikeness. The Bible is His Word given to all. But it gives us direction and hope. And we live with this hope for our future and the joy that comes from the freedom we have and our obedience to God.

Are you ready for the call? Really ready? It means dying to our desires and plans. It means living as He determines and doing the work of His Kingdom: Proclaiming the Truth of Jesus Christ to those who don't know him, living a life of grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, and purity while we serve others, and choosing to be faithful until the end of our lives. 

"And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
Jesus in Luke 23

What must we give up to follow Jesus? Everything.
What do we gain in exchange? Eternity!

August 24, 2021

Another Win for the New Epcot: Club Cool

As I said earlier, gotta give Imagineer Zach Riddley and team credit where it's due- the new Club Cool for Epcot does indeed look cool! The reimagining of Future World continues. The Harmonious barges are a loss, but this and the new entrance plaza for the park are wins.

(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 23, 2021

Splash Mountain: Tiana's Bayou Adventure

Sure, long time Disneyland and Walt Disney World fans of Splash Mountain had reason to be concerned when Disney Imagineering announced that the beloved attraction would become one focused on Princess and the Frog. And it had absolutely nothing to do with race.

It has everything to do with the quality of these more recent attraction makeovers: the transition of California Screamin' into the less than inspiring Incredicoaster, and the disaster that is Pixar Pier. The enjoyable but much less mysterious Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT! in place of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. (Or even a worthy stand alone new attraction the Marvel heroes should have had. See Spider Man's WEBSLINGERS). Truth is, you just can trust the modern Disney braintrust when it comes to plans such as these.

Could we as fans expect more when they take a classic Marc Davis character filled, Tony Baxter and team executed gem of Splash Mountain and turn it into something new? No- and yes, I was encouraged by the recent roundtable discussion regarding a Princess Tiana ride. See it for yourself.

I can see an easier tie into Disneyland's New Orleans Square but into the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland? Just as problematic as before- it's a stretch. 

Will Carmen Smith, Creative Executive, Vice President, Inclusive Strategies for Walt Disney Imagineering and Charita Carter, Senior Producer for Walt Disney Imagineering (what awful titles!) and their team be successful? They might just pull this off. Could there even be a new restaurant in the works? Wouldn't that be great!

(Art and video copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

What's Next for Hong Kong Disneyland

A re-Imagined castle. A new Frozen themed area that looks to be long on detail but shorter in substance. These are recently completed or in progress projects for the constantly improving Hong Kong Disneyland.  But what is next?

Maybe nothing. Or perhaps something as brilliant as the very old school excellence of Mystic Manor, the wonderful new story that revisits the classic Haunted Mansion in a whole new way. Then, there was the excellently executed design of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad meets Expedition Everest found in the more recent Grizzly Gulch's Runaway Mine Cars.  Just maybe the Imagineers will go way back and dig into this older inspired concept.

Once upon a time a frozen land of a different sort was planned by the Imagineers and cut due to budget restraints of the budgeteers. Call it "Glacier Bay", an icy wonderland perfectly designed to cut through the sweltering heat of Asia. Be it Tokyo or for Hong Kong, the suits had an idea to provide an area that was cool and refreshing. A nice contrast to humidity and scorching sun.

It was lightyears beyond the ordinary fairground mentality of the bland Toy Story Playland, the beautiful Glacier Bay would be home to a thrilling roller coaster, jet skiing (!), and more. Perhaps a more real life take on Florida's Blizzard Beach. This project will remain as a concept never built now that the wintery theme is replaced by Elsa and Anna ands friends. 

Glacier Bay reminds me of Tokyo DisneySea's futuristic Port Discovery. 

With competitor Ocean Park ramping up the competition for tourist dollars, the suits in Hong Kong are looking for ways to keep the guests coming in. COVID showed things down but they are still on task to make the park profitable and attractive to tourists. It may never be on par with Shanghai Disneyland if China's government gets its way- and it will. They just wouldn't want the former British colony to outshine the mainland's tourist park. Yet, all this work was done for a proposed but abandoned part of the Hong Kong park done by Favilli Studios, shows there are always new concepts being worked on and the pursuit of money will rule the theme park business. Just look at Disney Genie Service!

(Art copyright Favilli Studios.)

August 18, 2021

Who'd Have Thought Disney Could Get Even Greedier? Introducing Disney Genie Service

Do we need a friend like this?

Paid Fastpasses and extra charges to guarantee access to Rise of the Resistance. The new Disney Genie will offer it all to guests at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The magic trick? More money removed from your wallet as Disney moves closer and closer to an elitist caste system. 

Even the generally likable Josh D’Amaro puts a spin on it. (But what can he do, right?) Improving guest experience? A paid "lightning lane" for select attractions you choose. I'm still not convinced it's anything but greed. Yes, it's greed, pure and simple. Boo, Disney, boo! 

We do not need a friend like this!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

BBC- Is Disneyland the Great American Artwork?

The BBC asks "Is Disneyland the Great American Artwork?" The answer is a resounding "YES!", and I first wrote about it in that exact way almost 8 years ago. You can click on the link to the BBC post above, but stop and read my article as well! For your pleasure, the article begins below.
Years ago, The Walt Disney Company unleashed an experiment. In the world's most beautiful city, resides the theme park as a work of art. When placed inside a metropolis filled will world famous pieces of art, gorgeous buildings, and stunning gardens, the Imagineers just had to create a parc that would hold its own. And they did!

Originally named EuroDisneyland, competing with an abundance of man made wonders in the city and the continent at large meant CEO Michael Eisner had to invest big bucks if the park was to be a creative and financial success. In spite of the challenges or perhaps because of them, Disneyland Paris not only succeeds but is the most beautiful Magic Kingdom ever built. The overbuilding of the hotels surrounding it would be a noose around the park's neck, making major additions few and far between. That is a story for another time.

As the first European park from Disney and the first Disneyland styled park entirely reimagined from the ground up, the Imagineering team was handed quite a challenge but also a rare opportunity. Thankfully, the principal Imagineer in charge was Tony Baxter. His well-documented love for the first Disneyland and his appreciation and adaption of old school Imagineering, guaranteed the creation would be quite lovely, with substance as well as charm. 

In an interview from 1995 (found here), Tony recalls a conversation with Imagineer Marty Sklar about his plans for the park: "I would really like to have a chance to try for a perfect version of Disneyland." And he and his team did create it! In fact, I would say the resulting creation is the "E Ticket" park filled with "E Ticket" attractions.

The team of Imagineers Tony assembled is a "Who's Who" of Imagineering. While Tony cannot and does not take the credit for the park, his ability to draw out the best in his team cannot be overstated.

Tony himself is a fan favorite for leading the charge in building Splash Mountain, the Indiana Jones Adventure, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Journey into Imagination. Here's the rest of the main designers:

Eddie Sotto: Later instrumental in creating the groundbreaking Pooh's Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland,  Eddie accomplished a stunning Main Street U.S.A. It isn't the "Roaring 20's" styled one he fought for, (and the one Michael Eisner later regretted not building), but it stands above the others in the realm of mixing art, history, and fantasy.

Tim Delaney: His work on the Jules Verne themed Discoveryland is on par with just about everything built at Tokyo Disney Sea.  A French Mysterious Island, if you will.

Tom Morris: Prior to the new Fantasyland Forest take on Fantasyland, Tom brings the best of all previous versions to a whole new level of beauty. The castle itself is the most spectacular ever built, worth an hour or more of exploration all by itself.

Chris Tietz: No other Adventureland so perfectly accomplishes the task of feeling remote yet intimate. Opportunities to explore are everywhere! It's vast in size... and so full of potential growth for the future.

And lastly Pat Burke: Assigned to Frontierland,  Pat created a story and environment so rich, with attractions so interwoven, that words are not enough to communicate his epic accomplishment. In a park full of incredible lands, this one is my favorite.

What did I see that made me wish this park was my "home Kingdom"? 

Our first visit was in Fall of 1998, and I was mesmerized by what I saw. Our second trip occurred in Summer of 2007, and we were just as thrilled. Our third visit in 2012 was during the Christmas season. The park was cold, the trees bare, but the magic still shined as bright as the holiday lights. (See the blogpost An American in Paris for a full trip report.) 

The park does not have the lakeside location as with Florida's Magic Kingdom, but the elaborate gardens at the entrance- a European tradition- set the stage for the wonders to come. They are elaborate yet tasteful, with plenty of fountains punctuating the Parisian sky. 

Walking under the lovely (but extremely overpriced) Disneyland Hotel, the expected Main Street U.S.A. train station comes into view. It's an odd sight for those of us accustomed to the Stateside kingdoms. The station is so close to the ticket arcade, and it creates an unusual sense of space. 

The train station is elegant and understated.  The great detailing is really only to be found once you are in queue for the grand circle tour around the park. The handcrafted stained glass windows, each depicting a land in the park- windows in miniature that would be a popular but expensive souvenir- help you realize the Imagineers have gone far beyond the expected.  It's only the beginning. For a tourist rushing from attraction to attraction, the place delights. For an Imagineering fan, the place is one lush detail layered on top another.

For me, the first sight of the centerpiece castle is one that excites. It reminds me I am at Disney and not some local park filled with iron rides and little else. As a family, we couldn't walk down Main Street fast enough to begin our day. On the other hand, the castle draws you in and right to it. It's almost impossible to resist.

Le Ch√Ęteau de la Belle au Bois Dormant, triumphantly mixes animated movie style of Sleeping Beauty artwork with European true to life sensibilities. The work of the primary artist on the film, Eyvind Earle, was the inspiration for the castle. The artist and fans of the 1959 film would be thrilled to see it come to life. 

In each Magic Kingdom styled park, there are different experiences to be found. California has its walk-thru, Florida a restaurant, and Tokyo a combination of both. At Hong Kong Disneyland, the Anaheim-like castle was once listed as an attraction to pad the numbers. Yet, it is just a building, only a landmark at the first Disney Chinese park.  However at the French chateau, there really is an attraction worth exploring. We willingly spent over an hour of our one day visit viewing its handcrafted tapestries, stone tree pillars, lovingly created stained glass windows, its balconies, terraces and incredible views of Fantasyland. (Don't miss the sleeping knight in armor.) When beams of sunlight come into the castle, it's pretty enchanting. When the skies are darker, the beauty becomes a bit foreboding.

For an even darker experience, the piece de resistance is found at the basement level Dragon's Lair. Inside the dimly lit, dank dungeon, a fully realized Audio Animatronic dragon snarls and growls, blazing fire and smoke at guests passing by. How you discover it depends on the guest. The first visit, we journeyed through the accessible outside entrances. The next time, we discovered this darkest lower chamber is also reached by a secret passageway from the wizard Merlin's laboratory (and shop) above. In a sense, the castle is the premier attraction at the park, combining story, art, exploration and unexpected surprises. This is Disney Imagineering at its best. And all accomplished before Harry Potter arrived and changed the game at Universal Orlando.

Beyond the castle, the Parisian Fantasyland is a beautiful combination of Anaheim's (though at a much larger scope and scale) with elements all uniquely its own. There are many small gardens, water features, and plenty of discoveries around every bend.

In a nod to the multi-national authors of the fairy tales represented each attraction is voiced in the language of the original writer. It's a nice touch that reminded me that we were not home. One aspect of Fantasyland was very different. Initially disappointing but ultimately charming. The exteriors of Toad Hall look the same as the California attraction, but the residence is actually a British fish and chips restaurant. If you look around, you'll find one of many little charming touches that honor the park's continent: a portrait of Mr. Toad himself sits on a wall above diners. But wait and look carefully- here Mr. Toad is envisioned by great European artists: Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and da Vinci. The painting magically transforms before your eyes every minute or so. Delightful!

Fantasyland does have its dark rides. Peter Pan's Flight, with its double capacity vehicles, draws the same large crowds here as back home. Pinocchio's Daring Journey is almost a walk on just like at Disneyland as well. Snow White also has her home here. Each little dark ride is full of all the expected detail and similar storyline. There's not much different here, honestly, but as I'll share, the placement of Peter Pan's Flight is key.

Beyond the dark rides, much is made of the Alice in Wonderland themed labyrinth and for good reason. The winding paths through manicured gardens make for a great little family excursion. We all enjoyed it, and we let the kids freely work through the maze, giving them a bit of independence. Filled with characters from the film, the attraction is more akin to the "smaller" ones that provide charm at Walt's original park- the ones that are sorely missed in Florida. The glass-topped Tea Cups are nearby. Last visit, I thought that the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall and a re-imagined Alice ride would have made a great little sub-area.

In the opposite direction, It's A Small World is nearby, being the first one to include a United States themed area in the attraction. The facade echoes the original but with covered queue. The inside foregoes Mary Blair's art direction and style for something different but equally effective. Appreciating the differences is one major key to really enjoying this park. We found it interesting that here we were in Paris, with people speaking multiple languages all around, and together we were embarking on the Happiest Cruise that Ever Sailed. It is a small world. Nothing beats leaving your country to get a bigger taste of the world around you.

Besides the Anaheim original, the only other Storybookland Canal Boats are found here. The focus seems to be mostly on the newer Disney film classics with an odd inclusion of The Wizard of OzCasey Jr. Circus Train appears next door. Howeverthis one is a real coaster, blatantly ensuring the poorly designed and themed Gadget's Go Coaster will never make its way to France all the while providing thrills for little ones. Built long before it, the train also guarantees that the Seven Dwarfs' Mine Train will not be created on French soil.

As a family with teens, (our first visit and without any children the next two), we enjoyed Fantasyland, but we did wish for more. We would have loved a Mary Poppins themed dark ride or at least an attraction that was unique to this park.  Will the Little Mermaid / Ariel's Under Sea Adventure arrive? Probably, but when is the question. I have no idea if the Audio-Animatronic show from Beauty and the Beast will ever be built, but it once was on the expansion plans. (I've got the artwork on the blog somewhere...)

We wrapped up Fantasyland for exploration of Adventureland a trip with the Pirates of the Caribbean.  The quickest route there from Fantasyland? Through the covered arcade right past Peter Pan.  Going into Adventureland this way, there's Adventure Isle with Captain Hook's Pirate Ship and Skull Rock on the other side. Thematically consistent but there was no doubt we had left one land and entered a totally different one.

Similar to the old transition between Florida's Liberty Square from Fantasyland (pre-Tangled restrooms), there is a subtle architectural blending between both lands. In fact, the transitions all through this park are so smooth yet very distinctive. Once you enter one land, it is so immersive and so convincingly secluded from all others, it is easy to forget you are in a multi-themed park. The placement of focal points amidst cleverly placed high points and foliage makes it next to impossible to see the other lands than the one you are in. This is one strength of the Imagineer's design and the benefit of learning from what has come before. This effect reinforces the storytelling, highlighting the brilliant detailing and masterful crafting of the park. But, I digress- back to Adventureland.

A map of Adventure Isle and all its landmarks.

From the plaza, Adventureland beckons with a distinctive Arabian Nights theme, a nod to the European perspective of what is considered exotic. Inside the buildings are a nice walk through attraction based on Aladdin, a bazaar, and a very quiet little cafe. Shops surround it all, offering African goods and such, with an Indiana Jones type jeep on the road... perhaps a hint of things to come. 

Coming in from the other entrance, Adventure Island is straight ahead and offers two pedestrian bridges to provide access to the grounds. There's no watercraft other than Hook's ship in dock but closer to Pirates of the Caribbean, the weathered remains of a small boat are on the sand. 

Up high on the island hilltop is The Swiss Family Tree House, its roots creating the perfect place for exploration with caves underground and the expected bridges and trails above. This incredible playground also consumed an hour or so of our time, as we had to cover every inch of it; the sights from almost every side of the island had to be captured by my camera. From one angle, the beautifully decaying fortress of Pirates of the Caribbean; from the other, views into an African themed section of the land or farther out, the jungle filled ruins of a temple being excavated by Indiana Jones.

In contrast to the high energy feel of neighboring Frontierland, the feel of this land is more quiet, subdued, mysterious. The only area that feels energetic is around the Temple of Peril coaster and that is just because you can hear the screams of the riders on this small scale coaster. This quiet flavor works well to make the next major attraction have a huge impact.

Back on shore, where fortress and village meet, the Pirates of the Caribbean is the definitive version of this classic attraction- even outpacing the Anaheim original. The build looks much like what the attraction at Shanghai Disneyland will resemble. White washed stone weathered by sand and wind and water. The queue is dark, winding, and slowly engulfs you into the attraction. It's as effective a waiting space as that in Florida's Pirates or of the same high quality as the line at the Indiana Jones Adventure, but it is more subtle. There's no bayou here as in California, so the queue is performing double duty in place of the tranquil first few minutes of the cruise in Anaheim. I don't want to spoil everything, but I will mention a few standout differences.

Most all Disney fans have heard of the dueling pirates found in the "chase" scene, but the action at the beginning of the attraction also impresses. From the smaller marine animatronics, (such as the squid found just out of view from diners at the beautiful Blue Lagoon restaurant), to the very active pirates overthrowing the fortress before riders descend into the middle of the battle, this old standby attraction is reinvented to great effect. Currently, there's no Jack Sparrow in sight, so fans of Johnny Depp and the films may be disappointed. There's another change to the original- Here in Paris, those explosives do detonate- but you'll have to see it for yourself. It was a gutsy move to re-imagine the finest of Disney attractions, but Dead Men Tell New Tales here. Again, appreciating the differences is a major key to enjoying the park.

Stumbling upon a pirate hideout- from the queue!

Here, Frontierland is found where Adventureland resides in the American parks. It's placement seems jarring at first, but when viewing the entrances to each land from the plaza, it makes good sense. Those fanciful Arabian domes seem much more in their proper place next to the equally fanciful castle than an American fort of the Wild West. I am not a fan of the color of the domes, however, as I find it competes with the European palace next door. After dark, it seems to be a wise color scheme. Yet, I guess the same could be said for the colors of Discoveryland. Regardless, it is nothing major and just a preference.

Many Europeans love the tales from the American West, its landscapes, its stories, its heroes. This Frontierland captures it all, embracing both the facts and the lore. There's a good chunk of American History with a bit of Disneyland history thrown in. Beyond the fort at the entrance, there's little physical resemblance to the original Disneyland version which offered its Conestoga Wagons, mule trains, and Nature's Wonderland. There seems to be more soul in Paris than what's currently found on either side of the States. It's an intangible feeling, but it is definitely there.

The Imagineers, led by Pat Burke, have produced the most compelling landscapes and stories ever created for this section of the Magic Kingdom styled parks. There's wide open spaces and a lot of land. Though much of it is available for further design and  development, it truly does feel complete. With its attractions, array of places to dine, and an environment that's so encompassing, Frontierland is the standout themed land in an entire park of them; the ultimate Frontierland, one I bet Walt Disney himself would have loved to see come to fruition.

From the hub, approaching Fort Comstock, there are a few Indian teepees in the front alongside the small stream. The area is wooded and rustic. The riverboat cruises beyond the fort and Big Thunder Mountain is clearly in sight. Between the Adventureland and Frontierland entrances from the plaza side is a cleverly hidden gallery housing restrooms along a secluded path. The designers used a variety of vegetation to gently transition from the Middle East to the Old West of the United States. Excellently done.

As with the castle, Fort Comstock is also an attraction. You can explore the entire complex, walking the upper levels and enjoying terrific views across the frontier. I shot the photograph below from the upper level. You can see Phantom Manor to the far left. The Molly Brown riverboat sails past the parks of Big Thunder.

Inside the fort, Legends of the Wild West presents famous figures from American history in full scale tableau. Everywhere you turn, the detail and historical authenticity is incredible.  

The view from the top of Fort Comstock.

Straight beyond the fort lies Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Its trains round the track on this rocky island situated right in the middle of the Rivers of the Far West. 
There's much kinetic energy between the trains racing and the boats traveling the river.  

In an engineering feat of excellence, the trains race under the river and the bulk of the ride occurs on the island. This aspect gives the attraction a spectacular beginning, setting the pace for the whole journey, and is only outdone by its explosive finale.

Back on shore is the town of Thunder Mesa, named as a tribute to the great Imagineer Marc Davis and his never built Western River Expedition. (In fact, this park would be a perfect fit for the never built attraction as Europeans are less politically correct than Americans when it comes to Old West stereotypes.) With the racing mine trains, the steamboat sailing by, the Disneyland Railroad trains encircling the area, and the nearby shooting gallery creating some excitement, the combination is powerful. Tossing in the scents from the excellent steakhouse and a Mexican cantina, you've got the recipe for several hours just on this side of the park.

While Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is the thrilling visual center of the town of Thunder Mesa, Phantom Manor delivers thrills of a different kind, revealing a sinister undertone to the legends of the community. Our first trip through, actor Vincent Price was still the narrator to the journey. Not so for the last two. 

One thing is certain, this is not Imagineer Marc Davis' Haunted Mansion. Humor is missing in this Wild West version, the only remnant being the portraits found in the stretching room. 

The tone is darker, much darker, the landscapes hold more skeletons, and house itself is woefully unkept. The story revolves around greed, revenge, and murder. Not your typical Disney fare. Ultimately, the attraction is just scarier and different. Its symphonic score is a gorgeous piece of music, eerie but sad, beautiful and haunting. The story of Phantom Manor advances the stories behind Thunder Mesa while still leaving enough room for guests to create their own.

Sitting on the wooden walkways next to the shops far across from Phantom Manor, it was easy for me to suspend belief and dream of truly being back in time. There's a large chunk of land devoted to this theme, and the area is visually secluded from all others, with the layers of detail in sight and sound so rich and varied, the end result is the perfect representation of the old west mythologies. We spent several hours here taking in attractions, exploring the shops, and eating at the excellent and fairly priced Cowboy Cookout Barbecue.

After two visits to the park, I still could not uncover why this version is my favorite of all Frontierlands and perhaps my favorite land in all of Disneyland Paris. I finally came to this conclusion: In California, Frontierland is a shadow of its former self in contrast to what was designed by the Imagineering team under Walt Disney. In Florida, between Country Bear Jamboree and Splash Mountain, the land is an excuse for the placement of cuddly characters. Only in France, thousands of miles removed from the actual geography represented, does this uniquely American story get the respect it deserves. Sure, it is fictionalized and somewhat fantasized, but bottom line and bluntly stated, this Frontierland feels like the real thing and not an area found in a theme park.

In 1992, I watched the opening of the EuroDisney resort on television, and dreamed and prayed I would one day get to visit. While the banter of American hosts Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson added little to what I wanted to see, the images of Discoveryland stuck in my head. (Remember, this was even before Space Mountain was built. By the way, my very detailed look at the worldwide Space Mountains is found here.) This was what drove me to pursue a trip as I am a big fan of Jules Verne; and for those who are interested, Mysterious Island is my favorite of his writings.

When I finally did see Discoveryland with my own eyes in 1998, the small screen images didn't hold a candle to the monumental work I saw! Walking through the land, I was drawn so many different directions. But I had a single goal in mind: Space Mountain

From start to finish, it was a winner. The building itself radiates an other-worldness with its metallic surfaces and neon. Once placed within the cannon, the scenery while awaiting launch was stunning. The ride was smooth as glass, the music drew me in as it enhanced the experience. I couldn't ride it enough, although the queue length meant only two trips this first go around as there was so much to see and shortened park hours. My Disney-jaded fourteen year old son walked off the ride with a huge smile on his face. Not so my wife. It was just a bit much for her. 

When Space Mountain: Mission Two premiered years later, I lamented the changes I perceived would be made for the new adventure. My ride in 2007 only confirmed they were in fact for the worse.

Our last trip, my wife sweetly offered to shop while I rode. When I met her at the assigned place, my response said it all- "THAT is what I came to Disneyland Paris for!" Then, with her permission, I turned around for one more ride. If I had to choose between Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, I don't know if I could.

The level of detail inside Disneyland Paris' Discoveryland has to be seen to be believed. This photo is one of many mini murals painted inside the Cafe Hyperion restaurant.

This painted mural stood near the entrance to the excellent and elegant Le Visionarium attraction. As the emotional and philosophical centerpiece of Discoveryland, the attraction paid tribute to great visionaries of the past. 

Exploring a fully developed Nautilus submarine was one of the highlights of my day. Again, its a scenic piece in a small bay and not a major attraction, but it is eye candy and worth the time to explore. I saw clear references to Tony Baxter's long lost Discovery Bay here as well. The entire land is full of eye candy and the kind of design detail I love. There's space for more to be built if the company ever gets the weak Studios park to a point it can bring in a large audience. Time for a confession: I have need ridden Star Tours here. With time always at a premium, this flight simulator is towards the bottom of my list, and no, I am not a Star Wars fan. 

Unfortunately, one of the most endearing attractions at Disneyland Paris is no longer there: Le Visionarium. This circlevision film was great fun and a wonderful introduction to French future/fantasy. However, in our second visit in 2007, this impressive little movie was replaced by the ever popular video game starring Buzz Lightyear. This was not the first of the toon invasions into the park as Toy Story's Pizza Planet restaurant was already added to Discoveryland before our first visit.

When considering the direction Disney is taking with its Tomorrowlands, Discoveryland holds a unique place as being middle ground between Anaheim's original future focused realism and Hong Kong Disneyland's character infused land. What will happen in Shanghai? So far, it looks to be a sleeker 1960s version of Walt's original incarnation. Whatever changes come, I hope  Discoveryland holds its own as the transitions continue by remaining a tribute of visionaries come to life!

Lastly, Main Street, U.S.A., the first land in the park. It is every bit as impressive if not moreso than the grander version found in Florida's Magic Kingdom. If the Paris version of the land of the future has taken on a more fantasy bent, I would venture to say the same holds true for its Main Street. There is an idealistic, very artistic, beauty of each building, each billboard, each attraction. The beautiful work of Eddie Sotto and team elevates the land to something befitting landscapes from a dream.

Walt's: An American Restaurant is the perfect example of what I am attempting to communicate. The food is not only delicious but beautifully presented, and the atmosphere is a dream for every fan of classic Disney Imagineering. Artwork from the creation of the parks in found in the restaurant's themed rooms with appropriately styled furnishings. During our second trip (and without the kids), we lunched in the Frontierland room with a window view overlooking Main Street. It was worth every bit of the $75 we spent, one highlight of many in our trip to the park.

After lunch, as with every other land, we lingered here soaking in the details. Exploring the shops one by one, we loved what we found. My favorite was Main Street Motors, a love letter of sorts to the American automobile. The Emporium and Harrington's were also stops for our destination shopping, with equal amounts of detail found in both. Although we ate at Walt's, we did stop in and peek at the Market House Deli and Casey's Corner. More great theming and layered detail.

Although Main Street is relatively short on attractions, the Liberty and Discovery Arcades are attractions all their own. In fact, we spent more time in these than we thought we would, causing a delay of our after park plans. Each arcade held a series of "mini exhibits", adding to the richness of the park. It is these small touches that bring this kingdom closest to the charm of Walt's first Disneyland while maintaining the expanded scale and scope of Florida's.

Beyond its physical beauty, Disneyland Paris offers some of the most enhanced and esquisite versions of the classic Disney attractions. The choices for dining are on par with what can be found at Epcot. From snack choices to fine dining, the park has a variety of options to fit all budgets and preferences.

Readers of Disney parks' discussion boards are familiar with the ongoing complaints concerning the park. And these hold up with good reason. This beautifully designed place is saddled with very poor maintenance- probably the worst of all the Disney theme parks. It is not that the cast members are not doing their jobs. In fact, the cast members are very kind, courteous, and knowledgable. Simply said, the business planners for the park have not given enough resources to keep the park up to its opening day standards in upkeep and cleanliness.

The lovely setting from the second floor found in Walt's was offset by what I viewed from the window. Rotting wood, peeling paint, and general disrepair of the buildings found across the street took away from the experience inside. The same held true for the higher reaches of the park's castle, parts of Adventure Isle, and slices of each of the park's themed lands. There was a noticable difference in these standards between visit one and two, much to my dismay. Things rebounded a bit by the third visit, but it is clear there is still work to be done.

Item number two: downgrading the shopping experience. What are character plushes and plastic toys doing out in the open streets of Adventureland? (Or even in the shops here at all?) This is a horrible trend, one that should be reversed immediately. Our first visit held plenty of unique, even theme park exclusive, merchandise. Not on our second or third visit. Seems this disease is spreading from Florida!

Next, delay in bringing new theme appropriate attractions. No excuse here for stagnation. It does take money to make money. Learn from Walt here and not the corporate raiders of our day. The park should have new- not reimagined- attractions between 1998 and 2007. Replacing Le Visionarium for Buzz and rotating 3D movies is not the way to go. Nor is a new children's play area at the Adventureland beach or thowing in Woody and company into Frontierland. The Studios park may need more, but it is past time for the Paris Kingdom to gain a new jewel to crow about.

Lastly, and this piece is not entirely the fault of the Walt Disney Company, but the fault of the park's management, are the guests. Far too many of the park's visitors are incredibly disrespectful of both other guests and the beautiful surroundings. I have personally witnessed outdoor urination, widespread invasion of nonguest areas, and extremely poor manners with regards to line cutting. Is this really the same European guest that is amazingly respectful of the unprotected artistic masterpieces found in the Musee d'Orsay or the Louvre? My mind says impossible, but my mind also says probable. Either way, park security does nothing, only adding to the frustration of being in a beautiful park that at times feels out of control.

Do not let the downside to this European Disneyland stop you from visiting! From a thematic and design viewpoint, this is the finest Magic Kingdom ever created, maybe even on par with the much heralded Tokyo Disney Sea. Though outside the city limits, the park fits in perfectly with the City of Lights and is certainly worth an entire day of exploration. Twenty-two years later, Disneyland Paris is still the ultimate Magic Kingdom styled park.

(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

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The next photo comes with a warning! It's from the LA Times photographer and show the "new, gentler" Taliban- a woman and a child shot dead. Don't believe for a moment they have changed their ways! (Scroll down if you dare.)