June 30, 2009

Mysteries of Hong Kong Disneyland Expansion

This morning, the internet is buzzing with the finally announced expansion plans for Hong Kong Disneyland. There is much to be excited about!

Top of the list: a trackless version of the Haunted Mansion! Yes, a great merging of technology and story. Mystic Manor will be the home to multiple apparitions and mysterious supernatural experiences. Who hasn't wanted to travel freely through Disney's haunted homes? This apsect alone- and a new storyline- will guarantee multiple visits will be necessary on every trip to the park. Well done, Imagineers!

One of the biggest mysteries of the expansion is the inclusion of the other two lands! Toy Story Land? Ugh. Other than the ease of building it and the low price tag, this addition screams tackiness, be it at the Walt Disney Studios Paris or in Hong Kong.

The other land, Grizzly Trail, seems to take the most beautiful area of Disney's California Adventure and swaps the rafts for runaway trains. Sure to be a hit nd probably gorgeously designed, it is still a mystery why Disney would continue to parcel out the best pieces of an underperforming park they are so desperately trying to improve.
The expansion is good news as now the plans for Shanghai Disneyland can now be announced and revealed. What does Disney have planned there? It's a mystery that very few know- but not for long!
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 29, 2009

Epcot Primer: 2009 Edition

A recent letter to some friends made me do some serious thinking about how to visit the 2009 version of Epcot when you've never been and know little about Walt Disney World. Here's my letter, Read it and let me know if you agree or not.

"Hi Bob and Lisa,

Hope you're well! Lisa told me that you were taking the family to Epcot. It is my favorite theme park, and I know it very well. We have been there both with and without the kids since it opened in 1982. In many ways, I know it like my backyard.

If I may, I'd like to give you some ideas to help you spend less time waiting in line and more time enjoying the park. I've learned the hard way- and visiting a park at peak season (from early March through September on) can be a zoo. Even if you go in the middle of the week. If you've looked it up on Google earth, you know the park is divided into two sections shaped liked circles on top of each other- Future World and World Showcase. Epcot is like a world's fair in concept. technological exhibits on one end, country showcases on the other. Most of the "rides" are in the futuristic part. 

Most of the films, shops, and restaurants are in the country area.
To give you an idea of how big it is, just the lagoon between the two areas is over 100 acres, and it takes half an hour to walk from the top center of the bottom half (Future World) to the top center of World Showcase at the top. Ready for my suggestions? I think if you try them out, you'll save alot of time... Again, the important part is to have fun and not be "theme park nazi" , so my family tells me... ;)

You'll come into the park into Future World. There are two blockbuster, must-see type attractions here and several others worth your time. The first one is called "Soarin'" in the Land pavillion. It is a fun and thrilling but not scary simulated hang glider ride that your whole family can ride- including your parents. It is THE most popular ride in the park (and well worth it!), and the one with lines of up to two hours. The other ride is called "Test Track", and it is on the opposite side of Future World. It is an awesome ride with fast parts but everyone, regardless of age, loves it. (Don't miss it.)
It also can have a two hour wait. Unless you use a tool called Fastpass. It's like a rerservation for a ride, and both these rides use it as they are so popular. 

Here's what you do: Walk into the park, go past the big geosphere (Spaceship Earth) and turn right and go straight to the Land pavillion. As you go inside, go down the escalator to the queue for Soarin'. You'll see machines called Fastpass. Take all of your theme park tickets (one per person) and put them one at a time into the machine. It will spit out a Fastpass for each of you and return your park ticket. The ticket will tell you what time to come back and ride. When its time, walk to the "Fastpass Return" line, show your ticket to the person in charge and walk in. The wait will be 10 minutes or less most days. Note: At the bottom of your Fastpass ticket, in very small print, it will tell you when you can get another Fastpass. It is usually 1 minute after your Return Time of Two Hours, whichever is later.

So, if you want to ride both Soarin and Test Track, I'd go to Soarin' first and get a Fastpass for each person, go on other rides and such in the area, then get Fastpasses for Test Track after your time us allowable. Make sense?

OK- Here's what to do in Future World once you have your Fastpasses for those two rides: Turtle Talk with Crush- In the Seas with Nemo and Friends pavillion. This is one of our favorites. The animated turtle from the Nemo movie talks real time with kids in the audience. He is real time animation. This is one you have to see to believe. It is an incredible piece of "magic". We cannot say enough about this show. Crush is not a person in a costume- he is animated on the screen yet "sees" and talks with kids in the audience. Very cool. You'll walk out thinking "How did they ever do that!?!"

Spaceship Earth- A ride through the big ball. About the history of communication. Sounds boring but isn't. Very cool personalized ending I won't spoil. An Epcot classic. Usually short lines due to how fast the ride moves. If you wait to ride this right before you leave, it could be a walk on.

Club Cool- Try free Coca Cola sodas from all over the world. Free! And its really fun.

Illuminations- An evening fireworks show you won't believe, Also uses the buildings of World Showcase. Well worth staying up late for. Pick a spot by the lagoon- Mexico area is the best- about an hour before it starts. Sit down and guard your spot.
Living with the Land- Also inside the Land pavillion. A boat ride about agriculture. Fun and fascinating.

Mission:Space - a simulated ride to Mars with gravity effects etc. I've done both the mild and intense side. Choose the mild side or risk getting very sick. Done in cooperation with NASA. Very intense. The boys will probably love it. Your parents shouldn't ride it...

Innoventions- a series of smaller exhibits like a futuristic trade show.

Honey, I Shrunk the Audience- A fun 3D movie with surprising in house effects.This will cover the basics of Future World.

Now, World Showcase... Basically, 11 countries, including a couple of rides, one great robotic show, a lot of films.

China- beautiful film in 360 degree theater.

America- awesome show on American history. a robotic Ben Franklin walks up stairs. Really worth seeing!

France- gorgeous film with beautiful music. The scenery is stunning.

Norway- a short but fun boat ride. Usually a long wait. It's OK, not great.

Canada- Funny film in 360 degrees hosted by Martin Short.

Mexico- a boat ride that takes place inside the pyramid. Cute with the three caballeros, but not extra special.

The other countries have bands, music, etc, but are mainly areas for shopping and eating. Talk to the employees in the countries. They are nationals. Walk through the gardens of Japan and the streets of Morocco. The restaurants are expensive for dinner, less for lunch. The tea garden take out cafe in Japan is good. Fish and chips in UK good as well. The bakery in France is a great stop for a treat.
I hope all this helps. Let me know if you have any questions."

What do YOU think? What would you say to these friends? Let me know. I'm really curious. Have I missed the boat or am I right on the money?

June 26, 2009

A New Day Dawning for Pleasure Island?

Much has already been written about the closing of Pleasure Island. Some say it's return is coming. So today, I offer a photo tribute instead to this once fun and vibrant adult playground. First some pictures of the area by day:

Pleasure Island's unofficial "mascot" (below).
And now by night:
The Neon Armadillo, Cowboy bar sign.

The Adventurer's Club, above. Two shots left large. Look at all the wonderful detail Joe Rohde put into this British Colonial themed take on a tiki bar.

Mannequins dance club.

Lastly, the Comedy Warehouse. Photos also left large to reveal the park icons around the room. A very fun and family friendly show that takes serious pokes at the Disney company, its parks, and its fans.

(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson: Sad Ending to a Troubled Superstar

Everyone will have their opinions. Bottom line- Michael Jackson was one gifted musical artist. My favorite album and one whose songs are still on my ipod is "Off the Wall". His biggest album was less fun for me but Thriller was still full of surprises. Disneyland's Captain Eo showed him in all his splendor. May he finally find rest and the peace that always seemed to be beyond his reach.

Goodbye Farrah

Shampoo and shaving cream commercials, television and feature films. Farrah Fawcett did it all, but for her fans, she never really moved beyond the starmaking role as Jill Monroe in the television hit series, Charlie's Angels. With Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson, she played a savvy and seductive detective. Rising to temporary superstardom, (from an eternal perspective as well as in Hollywood, is there really any other kind?), Farrah became a pin up girl for a generation.

Post Angels, she was more known for making the tabloids due to her rough private life with Ryan O'Neal and their difficult family life. Unlike Hollywood, life doesn't always guarantee a happy ending, and this angel faught long and hard against her enemy, cancer. Now the battle is over. Hopefully, she has found her peace.

Hong Kong Disneyland Expansion News!

Fresh from The Disney Report, the details of the long awaited expansion to Hong Kong Disneyland will be announced June 30th! Finally, there may be some Grim Grinning Ghosts and a little Yo! Ho! after all.

Real Life vs. Reel Life

I had a startling revelation this morning. Due to my extensive trip to Asia, I watched no television except at the airport between flights, and I did not miss it at all! Instead of advertisements for Walt Disney World, cars I couldn't afford, and the unfortunate multitude of pharmaceuticals, I focused on real life: my family, the people I love, and my relationship with God. What a refreshing time! Now that I am home, I hope I remember this season and stay focused on what is really important. Feel free to challenge me on that, won't you?

June 24, 2009

A Promise of Tales to Come

Just returned a few days ago from my Asia trip. So much to say! I was wowed by what I saw and heard. Being that I came home to a large project, it will be a few days until everything is compiled and in place for a post. But I promise it will be a surprise worth the wait.
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

June 23, 2009

Birds and Bears: The Death of Disney Audio-Animatronic Musicals

At one point in the not too distant past, Disney developed several musical variety attractions. The trend began in 1963 with the opening of "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room" and continued on with various shows opening in many theme parks around the world. This was a good fit for the time as American television was dominated by comedy, music, and variety shows.

The spectacular success of "Tiki" meant there would be more to come. Eventually, there was a duplicate of the show in Florida dubbed "Tropical Serenade", as well as two others at the opening of the Magic Kingdom park, "The Mickey Mouse Revue" and "Country Bear Jamboree". In turn, the West Coast gained its own bear hoedown as well as another show - a tribute to America and its music, just in time for the country's bicentennial with "America Sings". With all these shows, theme park fans across the country had several chances to sit down and relax while they were entertained in air-conditioned comfort. A big bonus especially in the humid and hot Sunshine State.

The Magic Kingdoms were not the only Disney parks to receive these types of musical revues. The 1982 opening of the groundbreaking EPCOT Center, brought us Kitchen Kabaret, a strange little show about nutrition hosted by fruits and vegetables. For all of Disney's talk about the park heralding the next century, this cabaret was very retro, exactly the type of attraction that earned Disney parks the teen reputation of being "the place old people went." Or even just a place for little kids. (Think about the pizza hall Chuck E. Cheese!) It was an extremely long 12 years before this show was retired, but unfortunately it was replaced by an even worse presentation, Food Rocks.

Tokyo Disneyland's opening saw the first overseas presentations of the Magic Kingdom's shows, aside from "America Sings" which, thankfully had no place in Japan, and the Land pavilion's musical theater- which shouldn't have happened anywhere. Wiser heads prevailed for the planning of Disneyland Paris. None of these shows were featured, and the planned Beauty and the Beast musical theater presentation was axed in favor of other attractions. I must admit, since this is my favorite Disney animated movie, ( Do I really need to qualify this by saying "hand drawn"?), I was very much looking forward to this show.

Although initially quite fun, these musical shows were starting to wear thin with each repeat viewing. Attendance began to drop. Marc Davis' charming American characters found a new home in Splash Mountain, and the Mouse's Revue in Florida took up new digs at Tokyo's opening. 

A poorly planned and executed replacement for Serenade opened in Florida as a desperate attempt to keep an audience. At the Happiest Place on Earth, the Bears vacated their California home and made way for an English cub, with Food Rocks retiring for Epcot's version of the only California Adventure classic, Soarin'. In the middle of this transition time, the Imagineers wisely dropped plans for an alien cabaret to replace the poorly aging Carousel Theater in California. The era of theater shows starring animatronics had passed.

Being a music lover meant these shows had a longer life span for me than maybe necessary. Some shows weathered better than others. Having a soft spot for Hawaii and looking back fondly on our many vacations there, I was thrilled when the original Tiki Room was beautifully restored. I wished Disney had saved one theater for the Bears, but that was more for nostalgia value than anything else. (A rumored remake with famous country singers would have held some interest for another few years, however.)

Just recently, I listened to the full recordings of the Disneyland shows from the 50th Anniversary set. Sad to say, but I found myself thinking these shows needed to be replaced. The Jamboree was charming for its time. America Sings, as much as I appreciate the talent of Mr. Davis and his sense of humor, has aged the worst of the lot. Even my beloved Tiki Room survives as a pleasant distraction due to my love for the islands.

Attractions aging poorly is not solely the domain of animatronic musical theater. Disney faces the same kind of challenges with its reliance on 3D film-based attractions and also with stage productions using live actors. Due to its large base of international versus local visitors, the Florida parks can last longer with aging shows and films, but not so in California, as evidenced by the feeble crowds for "Muppets" and "It's Tough to Be a Bug". Viewing the latest plans for California Adventure, we see the Imagineers themselves understanding the struggle they face. New adventures either involve interactivity or those that physically move us from place to place, all the while telling a great story.

The biggest lesson here for Disney is to understand their audience is constantly looking for something not found elsewhere. Disney cannot continue to rely on yesterday's methods and whatever is easiest (or cheapest) to do. Developing new technologies are a vital part to keeping things fresh and to bringing return visitors. Disney cannot allow their competition the luxury of beating them at their own game by passing on cutting edge ride or show systems offered by outside firms.

While in the parks, guests desire something new and different. Particularly in California where it is so easy to travel between parks, a variety in types of attractions and experiences contribute to keeping visitors around through mealtime and into the evening hours.

Balancing these truths and budgets are all part of the new rules for today's theme park game. As shown by the public's lukewarm reaction to the poorly executed but quickly improving California Adventure, rewriting the rules doesn't always work. The lessons learned at this park prove it is better to do it right the first time or pay the price. This time, they won't get increased attendance for a song.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 22, 2009

Keeping Secrets

Common sense tells me they must. Business competition demands it. People love to do it. Keeping secrets is just part of what we do individually and collectively.

Now that the total remake of California Adventure's Paradise Pier is in full swing, what is coming next? Sure, the Imagineers have given us a taste by showing some models and pieces of concept art in the Blue Sky Cellar, but you know as well as I do, they are not revealing all of what is happening behind closed doors. John Lasseter is a very smart man and keeps his secrets, sharing them to only a select few.

Who can blame him? I do this all the time- and so do you! We give only the best parts of ourselves to the people we want to impress, and we hide the things that embarrass us from as many people as possible.

There is much speculation on every Disney project- the movies, the cable channel, and especially what is being built or will be considered for the parks. Do you ever notice how once a project is announced, the Walt Disney Company gives very little commentary on what is going on behind the scenes until it is very close to completion? Why? Some ideas materialize and some never do. Just for a moment, think of what we have missed over the years: Tony Baxter's beautiful Discovery Bay for Disneyland, Marc Davis' amazing Western River Expedition and the whole Thunder Mesa complex for Florida's Magic Kingdom, a host of World Showcase attractions for Epcot. A fully realized Space pavilion. A Beauty and the Beast animatronics theater show for Disneyland Paris. An improved thrill version of Pirates of the Caribbean for Hong Kong Disneyland. The list goes on and on. Some plans are just wild rumors and speculation- anyone remember Disneyland Texas?

The thing is, "It all comes out in the wash", as the old timers used to say. In the new world of the internet, what is done and what is built becomes evident very quickly. Photos posted of the construction of California Adventure 1.0 revealed a park built to maximize profits with a minimal investment. Conversely, those posted showing Tokyo Disney Sea under construction helped convince a theme park loving Japanese public that this was going to be an amazing place.

Looking at Disney's history over the last two decades reveals some life lessons for us common folk as well as for the company we love to talk about. Quality work wins out, going cheap and producing less than our best effort does not. Greed diminishes the end result and reveals the core of our motives and nature. Regardless of what we say, our actions speak louder than our verbal hype or explanation. Someone is always watching us. Ultimately, there really are no secrets.

June 15, 2009

Design Detail: Frontierland Railroad Station

To many of us "Westcoasters" nothing compares to Disneyland when it concerns the intricate details found in the park. In fact, for many of us, Florida's Magic Kingdom is dismissed with a "bigger isn't always better" attitude. On my recent trip to Florida's Walt Disney World, however, I looked for and found multitudes of detail added in by the Imagineers.

When visiting this Magic Kingdom, "doing the mountains" is as necessary a ritual as it is in California. While grabbing a necessary Fastpass for Splash Mountain (120 minutes wait in February!), I noticed the care taken in fitting the attraction with that of the very nearby Frontierland Railroad Station. This sign caught my eye, but this wasn't the only visual candy to be found. Just beyond the sign to the left is a giant courtyard which functions as the queue for Splash. In the center stands a giant tree with many lanterns of all shapes and sizes. Surrounding this gorgeous landscaped area was a very detailed series of buildings erected aound a planked boardwalk. This type of detailing would be totally necessary for just a queue. But at Disney, even in Florida, great care is taken to provide a great guest experience.
(Photography copyright Mark Taft)

June 14, 2009

ipod shuffled

Like to shake it up a bit every now and then. And it was way overdue, but it finally took American Idol Season Eight to make me shuffle up my ipod. Not since the year of Elliott Yamin and Chris Daughtry has there been such talent!

So adding to the old standbys of Sting and Karen and Richard Carpenter are now Kris Allen and Danny Gokey, in particular. Why now Adam Lambert? Just not a fan of the glam rock thing. Should his disc have a few things as strong as Mad World, I might consider a change of plan.

Certainly, there are some oddities on my ipod shuffle to make the most die-hard of Disney geek blush. One Little Spark from the Imagination pavilion (Epcot), the on board soundtrack from the original version of Space Mountain (Paris), and various odds and ends from Disneyland, Epcot, California Adventure and TokyoDisneySea.

Naturally, it doesn't end there. Jeremy Camp, Chris Tomlin, and Amy Grant give me an inspirational shot, with Michael Buble and Frank Sinatra providing the swing. George Strait still rules and Keith Urban adds a few more songs to my collection.

Can't wait for the traditional onslaught of Fall releases! I am sure A Change is Gonna Come once again.

June 11, 2009


A successful European tour. The same in Latin America. One busy lady. It is time, Gloria Estefan, for a new album. Your warm voice needs to be heard once more. Tell us it will be soon...

June 10, 2009

No More Shame...

"I sought the LORD and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame...Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him."
Psalm 34:4-5, 8

June 9, 2009

Incredible Voyage!

Attention parents in the metro Denver area: If you are looking for something fun for your kids this summer, check this out: Adventure Camp Colorado. Sports camps for middle and high schoolers and a great day camp for elementary kids. Fun video on line, too!
(Concept art copyright Adventure Camp Colorado.)

June 8, 2009

In the Eye of the Beholder: Pretty in Pink

Out in the internet world, travel photos abound. However, you just have to check out this one: Stuck in Customs. The photos are gorgeous and the associated text makes an interesting read. Cinderella's Castle, above, in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom is a fan favorite, but rarely have I seen it look more beautiful!

June 7, 2009

Imagineering's Crown Jewel

Much has been written, and rightfully so, about the new and beautiful book, The Art of Walt Disney World. As I have drooled over all the beautiful renderings from the geniuses at Walt Disney Imagineering, visions of stunning but unrealized World Showcase pavilions at Epcot have danced through my head.

In California, Disney Imagineers of olden times were no less adept at creating some of the most gorgeous lands ever conceived. As seen in The Art of Disneyland, it is easy to understand that New Orleans Square remains at the top of the list of anything designed for the Disneyland Resort. (We can only hope that the poorly named Carsland at California Adventure turns out so well!)

It is not just the original attractions found here- the masterworks of Marc Davis, Rolly Crump, Claude Coates and company- Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion- that make New Orleans Square what it is. It is the combination of ground breaking and beloved attractions surrounded by excellent storytelling. There is painstaking attention to detail and beautiful shops and restaurants. Lush landscaping and elegant lighting. The Imagineers had a clear love for the city of New Orleans, its people, its landscapes, and its lore.

Sam McKim's original 1957 concept (above) for the land entices. Yes, there is still a wax museum on the painting, a different street layout, and the alternate exterior of the Haunted Mansion, but the essence of the land is what was finally built. The painting and the end result: sheer artistry. This Disneyland original is both a beacon to park guests and the long enduring standard of comparison for anything built on the East Coast. Or Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, or soon, Shanghai.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 4, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Today, I depart for the other side of the world. A journey I never truly expected to take, but one I know I will get much out of. Let's just say I'm taking off for a particular resort in Asia...

I'll return soon, but in the meantime, I've planned a great series of posts on the blog for everyone to enjoy. There will be much to say and show upon my return...

June 3, 2009

The Garden of Hope

Human trafficking. A disgusting, heartbreaking problem all over Southeast Asia- and one that, I'm ashamed to say, folks of my gender contribute to. The "freedom" of pornography only fuels the fire for the real thing. Nor is it just in Asia, as the U.S. State Department estimates 14 to 17 thousand victims are brought to the United States each year.

Take a look at this group. The Garden of Hope folks are making a tangible difference in the lives of abused women. Its a very worthy cause in which YOU can make a difference.

June 2, 2009

Princess of New Orleans

A new and fresh shot from Disney's "Princess and the Frog"...
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

It's Fun to Be Free

The genius of Herb Ryman was not limited to the west coast and Disneyland. At Epcot Center, he was clearly in the middle of it all, turning out masterpieces like the one above. This alterate version of the World of Motion exterior borrows some elements what from what was eventually built but with flourishes all its own.

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 1, 2009

Journeys to Nowhere in Particular

Just what is Mr. Toad up to? If you'd like to know, you either have to read The Wind in the Willows, the book by Kenneth Grahame, or visit one of two Magic Kingdom style parks.

The most fulfilling journey will come from those taken at Disneyland in California. In fact, it is the only place you can actually hop aboard an old motorcar for a brief but thrilling excursion through Toad Hall and then London itself. (Imagineering's David Naylor created the painting above in 1982.)

Sadly, Walt Disney World's version of Toad's travels closed in the late 1990's to make way for the blustery adventures of a silly ole bear. The Magic Kingdom is the poorer for it, as Florida's version had not one but two separate journeys! I always did like taking two rides through upon each visit. Of course, you get always visit via web! For extensive details and photos, go to Widen Your World . For an on line ride thru, head to Virtual Toad.

The only other place to go and experience a bit of Toad is at Disneyland Paris. In this beautiful French park, although the exteriors of Toad Hall look the same, the residence is actually a British restaurant! The detail is still stunning, and if you look around, you'll find one of many little charming touches: a portrait of Mr. Toad himself sits on a wall above diners. 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!

Before I sign off, I must mention the images above come from the terrific book, Disneyland Paris, From Sketch to Reality. It is written by Alain Littaye and Didier Ghez. Alain is the blogmaster of the great Disney and More website. I believe the book is still available- and is very well worth your hard earned money. It is the best source for Imagineering concept art for the Paris park. Stunning!

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)