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

Timestamp

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.)