March 30, 2009

Disneyland Hotel Makeover

Rumors abound that a remodel or demolition and rebuild of the classic Disneyland Hotel is on its way. Recent photos have surfaced of "test rooms" with different paint schemes and window treatments. Of course, some of us are holding out for that classic "Mictorian" look to make its debut. Think Grand Floridian at Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland Hotel or the Disneyland Hotel in Paris. Certainly all are beautiful properties worthy of carrying the flagship Disney name.

However, the more I think about it, the more I see Disney suits choosing to revamp the 1950s era hotel into something very similar to what we find in Hong Kong Disneyland's Hollywood Hotel. As all three of these photos show, the style would easily fit the original architectural and structure of what currently sits on Anaheim's precious land. Moreover, the mid-century Americana look is stylistically back in vogue.

Thinking further, the current Neverland pool area could remain, as the movie Peter Pan made its debut in 1953, thus fitting in perfectly. Add in a trendy martini bar and some other retro touches. Maybe even a new version of Disney's Hollywood Studios' Prime Time Cafe. Mix carefully to a great result and a good complement to Disney's California Adventure. Bonus: Even the new monorail cars have a 50s era sensibility.

This hotel remake could be a very fun idea, resulting in an appealing classic look at much less expense than a full demolition and startover. In the minds of the Disney suits, this has to be the most appealing aspect of all.

Wanna place your bets?

March 28, 2009

Just Say No to a Single Global Currency!

It is clear that the actions of each person and those of each country effect others around them. If you've read this blog for long, you know how I feel about treating people well, caring for others, and "being Jesus" to those around you.

There is a clear and strong international movement toward creating a global currency, and the United States needs to refrain from becoming a part of it. (Just think the Euro goes intercontinental, and you get the idea. Something similar is going on in South America as well.) Don't believe me? Check out this website: Single Global Currency.

Or check out this recent article (below) from US News and World Report.

Here's one of the problems it creates: When the world goes this direction, a smaller and smaller group of people will be in charge of what happens to the majority of us living on the planet. We all know "money makes the world go round", and this is where it will all begin. Sounds like the Book of Revelation in the Bible.

One money, one government. Whose values will be embraced and whose politics enforced by this type of dictatorship? Do you want someone else deciding what is an acceptable way for you to live? Not me!

Global Economy -Yes; Global Currency- Just Say No!

From US News and World Report:
March 25, 2009 10:34 AM ET by James Pethokoukis

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says he is "quite open" to a massive reduction in the economic power and influence of the United States.

O.K, what Geithner actually said earlier today is that he is "quite open" to China's idea of a global currency system linked to the International Monetary Fund's Strategic Drawing Rights. But it might be pretty much the same thing since the whole point of the embryonic idea is to lessen the influence of the dollar. More from Geithner: "As I understand it, it's a proposal designed to increase the use of the IMF's Special Drawing Rights. I am actually quite open to that suggestion ...[though it should bee seen as an] evolutionary building on the current architecture rather than moving us to a global monetary union."

March 27, 2009

Fascinating Pleasure: Walt Disney and the 1964 World's Fair

In a few words, a fascinating pleasure! Beautiful set- the artwork is terrific and the packaging is brilliant, but the music is spectacular. The behind the scenes demos and recordings are a treat. The music is timeless. Just goes to show that the great Disney Imagineers of old knew their stuff. Kudos- and thanks- to Randy Thornton and the late Bruce Gordon.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Beautiful Rat

Disney's concept art comes in many flavors and for many types of projects. Not all is for the Disneyland theme parks, Epcot, the Studios, or Animal Kingdom. Here is a stunning piece for the Pixar film Ratatouille. I'd say, it captures my beloved Paris beautifully.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 26, 2009

Another Imagineering Art Mystery

Here's another mysterious piece of concept art. However, this one comes from the amazing blog: Vintage Disneyland Tickets. Don't let the name fool you- it's full of way more great things than the title suggests. Go there now to read the latest post on Imagineering. Anyone know what this is? (To me, it looks like a Space pavilion or Space Mountain Paris piece.)(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Hello Love

Chris Tomlin- Another great disc from a wonderful voice in spiritual music. Crisp, clean, surprising. Check it out:

March 25, 2009

Moscou Paris

The level of detail inside Disneyland Paris has to be seen to be believed. This photo is one of many mini murals painted inside the Cafe Hyperion restaurant. Discoveryland and all the lands in the park are stuffed with eye candy! Don't let the exchange rate or the long flight hinder you from visiting this gorgeous place.
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

March 24, 2009

Oldies but Goodies

Oldies for a not-so-snowy day in Denver...

1. Ordinary Fool- Carpenters 2. Nothing Bout Me- Sting 3. This Time I Know It's For Real- Donna Summer 4. House of Love- Amy Grant 5. I Only Have Eyes for You- Art Garfunkel 6. How Can I Fall? -Breathe 7. If We Were Lovers- Gloria Estefan 8. Have I Told You Lately- Rod Stewart 9. Someone Like You- Van Morrison 10. I Believe In You and Me- Whitney Houston 11. What's On Your Mind- Information Society 12. Freeway of Love- Aretha Franklin 13. Day Tripper- Beatles 14. Good Vibrations- Beach Boys 15. I'll Be There for You- Rembrandts 16. Friends- Michael W Smith 17. Deeper Than A River- Olivia Newton-John 18. Someday We'll Be Together- Supremes 19. We Must Be Loving Right- George Strait 20. When Love Finds You- Vince Gill 21. It's Impossible- Perry Como 22. Night and Day- Temptations 23. We Can Work it Out- Chaka Khan 24. If You Leave Me Now- Chicago 25. How Sweet It Is to be Loved By You- James Taylor 26- Rock with You- Michael Jackson 27. Home- Michael Buble 28. One Hundred Ways- James Ingram 29. Through the Years- Kenny Rogers 30. For All We Know- Barbra Streisand 31. Cry- Crystal Gayle 32. Sunday Kind of Love- Reba McEntire 33. What If I Loved You- Joey Gion 34. September- Earth Wind and Fire 35. Show Me the Way to Your Heart- Scott Grimes 36. Last One Singin the Blues- Karen Carpenter 37. The Very Thought of You- Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt 38. Beyond the Sea- George Benson 39. In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning- Chris Botti 40. Fly Me to the Moon- Frank Sinatra 41. Unforgettable- Natalie and Nat King Cole 42. Honky Cat- Elton John 43. What A Wonderful World- Louis Armstrong 44. It Takes Two- Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell 45. You Cant Hurry Love- Phil Collins 46. Hello Again- Neil Diamond 47. Come in From the Rain- Captain and Tennille 48. Rise- Herb Alpert 49. Poor Side of Town- Johnny Rivers 50. Cant Help Falling in Love with You- Elvis Presley 51. Biggest Part of Me- Ambrosia

March 23, 2009

Notable and Quotable: Glen Keane

On animating the Beast for the film Beauty and the Beast, Disney animator Glen Keane says,

"This is the moment- this is what I was born for...
As I started animating it, for me it's really an expression of my spiritual life.

There's a verse in the Bible that says 'If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things have become new...'

Because it is really about an inner spiritual transformation that's taking place with the Beast. I saw it as a parable of my life."

If you want to see Glen's great artwork in various forms, here's the place to go:The Art of Glen Keane .

March 19, 2009

"Bargain Basement" Imagineering- California Adventure 1.5

Once the Grand Opening of Disney's California Adventure was behind them, the executives of The Walt Disney Company waited for the crowds to come- and waited and waited and waited.

Early renderings, models and posters of the park communicated poorly- or maybe accurately, prominently featuring the carnival side of California Adventure and the film making aspects, things that could be found at other southland amusement parks.

Bad weather, the economy, misunderstanding of the park- all these reasons were given as to why the crowds didn't materialize. Why didn't the public appreciate groundbreaking attractions like a small area of crops and a tractor display? What was wrong with carnival attractions that could be found at state fairs? Eventually, reality set in: Disney had tried to sell the park as the peak of Imagineering efforts, but the public saw through all the hype and advertising.

The original Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, was doing just fine, thank you, but its newer sister park was clearly the less favored ugly duckling. The numbers were dimsal. Park managers and sponsors were less than delighted.

From the guest standpoint, surveys seemed to indicate that Disney had forgotten much about what made a beloved park. There were too few attractions for families, too many film-based theater shows, clones of secondary draws from Walt Disney World, and overall very little magic and theme.

The most oft criticized area was Paradise Pier, a modern version of an old seaside amusement park. Unfortunately, this area was executed as a cheap version of a Six Flags park- full of iron rides with little originality or dressing. The park entrance, dubbed the Sunshine Plaza, was said to create a "hip and edgy" vibe for the park, but more excitement was to be found at the very places it emulated: Southern California shopping malls.

The only true new and winning area seemed to be the Golden State, an area that most celebrated the California theme. Even that district was not without it problems, as fans realized the park's icon was a beautifully designed mountain that held a mundane and off the shelf raft ride. Adjacent was an imaginative children's play area themed to California's mountain landscapes. The raft ride, what should have been an incredible attraction, was just passable- much like most of the park. There was one bright spot- Soarin' Over California, and that soon made its way to Epcot, stripping this struggling park of its one jewel.

Something had to be fast as the park was quickly becoming the laughingstock of the theme park and entertainment industry. When it became impossible to change public opinion, the next best plan of attack was to add to the park and add to it quickly. So now, here is a compilation of concept art for the next stage of this poorly executed second theme park at the Disneyland Resort.

A quick addition was made to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Play It! This guest experience was based on the over exposed television show. It was a fun attaction, but really did nothing to bring in the crowds. Once the television show lost its audience, so did the attraction, closing quickly thereafter.

This rush to bring in guests had another down side. Once proposed attractions for the Backlot area were now abandoned. This included the immensely fun Armageddon special effects show built at Walt Disney Studios Paris.

In an effort to bring more Disney to the park, characters were added and the unique California flavors were decreased. The wonderful Eureka parade gave way, and Disney announced that Flik's Fun Fair, a kid oriented play area, and a reworked (but less impressive) Twilight Zone Tower of Terror would soon be added.

One of the odder choices for an attraction in Disney theme park history was Superstar Limo. This journey through Hollywood streets was so unpopular that it was shuttered in 2002. Speculation on a replacement ranged from a reworking of the original theme to a classic Disney character filled excursion to appeal to children.

The characters did end up inhabiting the stopping ground of Superstar Limo, however, they were Pixar characters from the popular Monsters Inc. film. Making its debut in 2006, this attraction made great use of its previous work on a fairly reasonable budget. Certainly, the attraction was as good as any smaller dark ride in Disneyland, but all these changes were not enough. Additionally, this choice signed a new change in strategy- California seemed to be on its way out, characters, and Pixar chracters in particular, were on its way in. This trend would start with the earlier inclusion of A Bug's Land in 2002.

Once Disneyland's 50th anniversary was complete, the focus would reshift to its smaller, less charming sibling. It seems the Disney executives finally understood they couldn't fool the consumer with a second rate park. With a new Chief Executive came a big announcement and much money accompanied with it. Did the company really understand? Time will tell. They have one last chance to convince the public that California Adventure is a real Disney quality park. Will they follow through with the eleborate plans, concepts and models in the Blue Sky Cellar? Stay tuned...

(All concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Special thanks to Brett Garrett from Visions Fantastic for his photo of the first piece.)
As my computer has recently crashed and I lost a lot of files, feel free to send me pieces of concept art YOU have. I will gladly add them to this or future posts! Thanks.

March 18, 2009

What's Going On Here?

Do you ever look around you and think, "What's going on here?" Boy, that seems to be my life these days. Without going into too much detail, I think all I am seeing is pain, sorrow, and suffering. Friends and family in crisis, most waiting patiently for God to seemingly step into the picture and make his presence known.

Yet I know deep in my soul and believe it with my life that He is very aware and active in the midst of life's pain as well as its pleasure. Jesus told us He would be with his believers until the end of time- that He's never leave us or forsake us. So, whether I recognize Him or not in any given situation, I know He is there. Isn't that was faith is all about?

Some may scoff, but I have personally witnessed God do the things others say doesn't happen: miraculous healings both physical and emotional. Restored marriages, renewed lives, and giving people sweet joy and peace in the middle of difficult life circumstances. Therefore, in the middle of my own struggles- and we all have them- I can say "What's going on here?" and choose to look for God taking care of me and the ones I love in the midst regardless of the outcome. What about you?

March 17, 2009

Bad News in Little China

The South China Morning Post reports Disney has halted work on the expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland, laying off approximately 30 employees:

Walt Disney Company has put the long-delayed expansion of its Hong Kong theme park on hold after failing to agree with the city's government on a cash infusion, the company said on Tuesday.

Disney and the government have been embroiled in protracted discussions over financing a second phase of the world’s smallest Disneyland and the first on Chinese soil.

But Hong Kong Disneyland’s visitor number projections failed to reach initial bullish predictions with the key Chinese tourist market now bogged down by a worldwide credit crunch and a decelerating economy that is discouraging travel.

Disney said it would fire about 30 Hong Kong-based employees dubbed “Imagineers” that had helped conceptualise and plan the expansion.

Some jobs might also go at Disney’s home-turf of Burbank, California, as a result of the work stoppage, a source familiar with the situation told reporters.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Disney had already been funding creative efforts – designing and envisioning the look of rides – but decided to pull financing when it became clear that a deal with the government on expanding Disneyland was not imminent.

“The uncertainty of the outcome requires us to immediately suspend all creative and design work on the project,” the US firm said in a statement.

The source however did not rule out a resumption of that effort should Disney eventually strike a deal with the city. Disney has also signed a framework agreement with the local government in Shangai to kick off a project, and said in January it intended to submit a proper plan for the park.

The Hong Kong government expressed “grave concern” about the decision and urged Disney to reconsider. “We consider that [Disney’s] laying off of Walt Disney Imagineers who have been working on the design of Hong Kong Disneyland’s expansion will not be conducive to the discussions and are puzzled by the company’s decision,” a spokesperson for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said in a statement.

Opened in 2005, Hong Kong Disneyland has been criticised for being far too small to attract repeat visitors despite its proximity to the mainland. “Despite this setback, The Walt Disney Company remains confident and committed to the long-term success of Hong Kong Disneyland,” Disney said.

An expansion could cost as much as HK$3 billion, local media have reported. In December, the Sing Tao Daily newspaper reported that Disney – in what was deemed an unusual concession – may give the government a greater share in the project in repayment of a cash loan of nearly US$800 million (HK$6,202 million) that the city had extended previously to the theme park.
Hong Kong residents and lawmakers, for their part, have queried the financial viability of pumping more public money into the struggling park, on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars already loaned to the project.

Disney has borrowed more than US$1 billion (HK$7.78 billion) for the project, including HK$6.1 billion it owed the city’s government, due to be repaid over 25 years. In last year, the theme park was forced to amend loan agreements after it failed to meet performance targets. That amended pact abolished targets but decreased the amount of a revolving credit facility.

March 16, 2009

It's a Wrap: Day Four at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Our last day in Orlando left us with about three hours to enjoy one of the parks before heading back to Denver. In our planning, we chose this partial day to be spent at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In my opinion, this was the least of the four parks in Walt Disney World.

The day before, our visit to Animal Kingdom on a cool gray day with little animal activity revealed the shortcomings of this beautiful park. Not enough shows and attractions to compensate when the animals win playing hide and go seek. We left that day somewhat disappointed by our time at the park. Very different from our previous days at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. (See my earlier trip reports.) The evening ahead was anything but more disappointment. In fact, in many ways, it was the highlight of our trip.

In our twenty plus years of visiting the World alone, with my wife, with family or with friends, I have wanted to eat a meal at the restaurant at the top of the Contemporary Resort- especially at fireworks time. This was not to be until this trip, and we were both delighted with the experience.

As soon as I know we would be headed to the World, I contacted Disney Dining. Snagging an 8:50pm reservation for two on our last evening, we felt this to be a great way to end our getaway. The day finally arrived. Leaving Animal Kingdom, we returned to our wonderful moderate resort, Port Orleans Riverside, to shower and change, As the time approached, we took the short bus ride to the Magic Kingdom. From there, we walked the pathway to the Contemporary. (It's a great way to see Space Mountain close up by the way.)

It was already pretty dark and slightly breezy. Regardless of the weather, rain or dry, I love Florida’s tropical evenings! A few stars were out, making our hand in hand walk even more romantic. Here I was in one of my favorite places with my lovely wife, my favorite person. What could be better?

I had never walked into the Contemporary from the ground floor. The lobby area was very nice and the new Wave restaurant seemed beautiful. Headed up to the 4th floor via the escalator while watching the monorail sail through the lobby. We stopped at the concierge counter to check in a bit early for dinner and took the elevator to the California Grill.

Purposely arriving early, we checked in and took a walk out on the observation deck overlooking the Magic Kingdom. Entirely empty and quiet. Great! Here was one of my "When Disney does it well, it is amazing!" moments. The sheer sight of Cinderella Castle and the neon lit Tomorrowland from sixteen stories up made me gasp. Absolutely stunning! When I could finally look another direction, I gazed at the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian resorts in the distance. The Electrical Water Pageant was cruising by. I could see the trains of the monorail making the circuit. What a sight! My wife noticed a telescope, so we popped in a quarter and got an eyeful. We could watch the logs of Splash Mountain heading down the final drop. I was in awe, so much so, that I forgot the restaurant had two additional observation decks. Maybe next time. With a fresh slight rain, we headed inside. In just a moment, our table was ready. We weren't seated by a window as those seats were unavailable, but no matter.

We ordered cocktails and an appetizer, enjoying a short break before our meal arrived. Just before it did, the announcement came that the fireworks were starting in just a moment. Many people left their tables and headed outside, us included, to enjoy the show.

I was clearly puzzled by the number of small children inside the California Grill! It is certainly a top notch experience with an expensive menu and an adult environment, but this seemed to not detour families from dining there. In fact, it also seemed to be a hot spot for locals celebrating special occasions as we noticed birthday and anniversary gatherings. Pleasantly, the children were well behaved, seemingly aware of the privilege of being there.

Our meal was extremely good! The dining room's signature pork tenderloin was generously cut and accompanied by delectable goat cheese polenta. My cod with rock shrimp in a clam chowder reduction was so tasty, I was temped to lick my plate. Our service was very good once our waiter got past an earlier snippy response to a simple question from my wife. My scowl in response to him indicated I was not pleased, and he got the message. This ensured the rest of our meal was kindly and well attended to. Dessert was equally enjoyable. Fresh raspberry ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Eventually,we had to leave, as much as I didn't want to do so. On the way out, we decided a quick monorail ride around would be a perfect way to end the evening. Walking up the ramp, I said a little prayer, asking God to let us sit up front with the driver. I so love that God is a god of details and cares so much for us. This is not to say He is my genie in a bottle- after all He is the Creator of the Universe and I choose to serve Him. Sometimes following Him means pain and sacrifice as well as blessing. However, this time He blessed us, answering my prayer with a "yes".

The Magic Kingdom was ahead of us and was our stop. It was Magic Evening Hours- and the park was open until 3.m.! I was tempted to add on another day to our passport for an evening stop, but my sleepy head got the best of me. Besides, tomorrow was our last few hours at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and I wanted to see as much as I could. However, the entire night was our magical evening!

In the morning, we reluctantly and quickly checked out, leaving our baggage to be picked up before taking the Magical Express in the afternoon. Jumped on the next bus headed to the Studios.

Maybe it was the fact it was our last day or maybe it was the fact it was the Studios, but I didn't expect much. The lines were quite long just to get into the park- not a good sign. Once inside, a sign board announced that the Tram Tour, Sounds Dangerous and Fantasmic were not operational.

The crowding continued inside the park as well, making touring extremely difficult. We had reservations for lunch at The Brown Derby, but after our late and amazing meal the night before, neither of us were in the mood.

Something felt different here in the Studios than in the previous three parks, and it took me a bit to figure it out. It was the scale of the park, the size of the buildings, the sense of intimacy. Since we had just been to Disneyland and California Adventure in December, I felt quite at home immediately. This park would have fit well at the Disneyland Resort, but I am glad the essence of it is found in Anaheim's second gate.

The sense of warmth and friendliness was immediately changed by the site of the Hat. How I hate that thing, and how it ruins the sightlines and the feeling of being transported to the "Hollywood that Never Was". The veiw of the beautiful and iconic Chinese Theater from the entrance is gone. What a mistake- certainly akin to the dreaded wand at Epcot.

As we walked down the street, admittedly, I had forgotten how much exquisite detail there is in this park. The buildings are quaint and charming- the merchandise still generic, however- with the vintage autos and "streetmosphere" creating quite the fun environment. A quick turn down Sunset Blvd. shook that out of me.

The street was a sea of people all clammoring toward The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock 'N' Rollercoaster. It felt as if we were somehow back in the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland between Splash and Big Thunder Mountains. The standby lines were already over an hour for each, the Fastpasses were good for after our departure time, and the single rider line for the coaster seemed to be about 40 minutes.

Decision time. And out of that came something I have never done before. I chose to tour the park realizing I wouldn't be taking in a single attraction. We only had two hours left, and we wanted to relax and walkaround. I could not have it both ways. The surprising thing was, I still had a great time- and it caused me to see this park in a whole new light.

Intentionally, I sought out the Carthay Theater as I knew this would be the new centerpiece building of Buena Vista Street at California Adventure 2.0. The look of the building very nice and should fit in very well. Personally, the new direction of this cheaply built park is a good one, yet I hope they balance out all the character additions with some uniquely California ones.

The more I stood around and looked, the better I liked this park, the details, and the offerings. Yes, there still are too many theater shows, but I realized I really wanted to go on the major attractions here and was disappointed I didn't have enough time. I took many shots of the Tower of Terror, enoying the care put into the placement and execution of this attraction. Even without riding- or maybe especially without riding- I realized this was the definitive version.

Pixar Place/Studios is full of detail and charm but poorly placed. It really is well done and screams old school Disney Imagineering, it is just very busy and a very small piece of land to hold such a popular attraction. Interestingly, once we passed Toy Story Midway Mania (which had a two hour standby wait and Fastpasses for 7:35pm!), we saw very few people in the park. This made for a very leisurely pace and a chance to relax and take photos.

Continuing out from the backside of the area, a couple of handfuls of folks were going into car stunt show which was just about to begin. We wandered around this area of the park past the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground, Muppets 3D, and the streets of the backlot. All amazingly devoid of people, allowing the amount of detail to really show itself.

Sci-Fi Dine In was nearby, so I grabbed a shot of the retro sign. Love the look of it- and the restaurant is fun even if the food is ordinary and pricey. In fact, I found much of the signage in the Studios to be eye catching. Star Tours was a walk on, but it was time for a quick snack of Mickey Mouse ice cream bars before we headed out of the park.

Eating our treat purchased from a cart, we sat on a bench at Echo Lake overlooking Gertie's Ice Cream of Destinction (which was closed. How ironic!). I was reminded of my first visit here, shortly after opening in 1989. Our kids were little and very excited by the simplest things such as the boxes of props for Maroon Studios and the giant bumblebee on the Studio Tour. My conclusion then was this was a pretty park to look at without much to do. Certainly a half day experience but with so much potential. Reminded me a lot of what I thought of Animal Kingdom the day before, albeit with a very different theme and packaging.

I noticed the Indiana Jones Stunt show was still very popular- go Indy!- and that The Great Movie Ride was very busy. Passing by The Prime Time Cafe, I took another sign photo- it was becoming a habit- and thought of the year my 4 year old daughter's coloring page was placed on the home's refrigerator. Sweet memories! We walked on. Cruising by American Idol, I recalled the fun of Superstar Television, but realized taste change, and folks seemed to be queuing up for the new show.

Heading down the main avenue for the exit, I was disappointed we didn't have more time. A stop at Sid Cahuenga's memorabilia shop was a short treat, although the store seemed much smaller than I remembered. Hearkening back to a time when you could find unique merchandise in each park, I enjoyed the vintage photos and atmosphere.

Walking out the gates, I wished I had swapped days and spent this one at Animal Kingdom instead. Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris were quick and easy to do in an hour or so, and a walk around the park and the Tree of Life could fill out the two and a half hours we had before our departure for the Orlando Airport. This would have given us a full day at Disney's Hollywood Studios- something I never had thought I could do in the past.

This trip, the charms and compelling attractions of one park were highlighted while the shortcoming of another became evident. Although one of my favorite Florida attractions is there, in my mind, Disney's Animal Kingdom has now officially moved to the bottom of the four in Orlando and Disney's Hollywood Studios has moved to third place. I say this cautiously: both parks are at an interesting crossroads.

Disney's Animal Kingdom needs more of everything- more attractions, more eateries, more substance, more hours. It also needs less- less of the cheapness evident in Dinorama, less dependance on animal exhibits to carry the day, less character based attractions and greeting areas to fill out the guest experience.

The Studios has its own problems: There is a clear need for more attractions that transport you instead of theater presentations. Headliner experiences must be added to the other sides of the park to balance out the rush towards Tower. The older centerpiece attractions such as Star Tours and The Great Movie Ride need a serious refreshening. The shops must return to offering compelling reasons to buy. The layout remains confusing and frustrating to navigate. Ultimately, Imagineering must return the park to a unified theme with consistent execution. And yes, get rid of the Hat!

Walt Disney World will always be a special place worth a visit. We are cautiously waiting what is up next. If it is more film based theater shows, new parades, and character attractions, it will be awhile, probably many years, before we return. These do not cause us to spend thousands of dollars here. However, if the accountants and Disney executives are forward thinking and add major compelling attractions- ones that dazzle and amaze, experiences available only at Disney World- we will make the effort to return. The choice is theirs- and ours.

(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)