July 31, 2010

Bye Bye

So, author Anne Rice says she's given up Christianity for Christ. Hmmm...

I cannot help but think about Jesus' words in the book of John- the words he spoke after many couldn't accept his teaching about His sacrifice,

"The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." "
(John 6:63-68)
USA Today's article includes this quote by the author about herself: "... an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God ... Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become."

Yes, God is loving. But we are wrong in thinking he redeems the people He created when they hold an "anything goes" attitude and do not embrace his call to a different life- a life whose focus is His pleasure not ours.

Loving Jesus and following Him requires an exchange: we no longer live and He lives in us. Our life is now his, and our choices, our lifestyle, must submit to His wishes. In other words, we were bought at a price- His blood.

Anne is right about this: Christianity is changing- but not for the better. It is moving away from classic Christianity into a new season where nothing is required of us, and God exists to make us happy. Not Biblical, not true. Never gonna happen.

July 30, 2010

The Countdown Continues...

Wow- My forthcoming last three posts on my Disney Park Countdown are each becoming a massive combination of park history and trip report. Some of the most detailed I have ever written with more text and photos than I ever expected. Bear with me- the results will be worth it!

July 28, 2010

Despicable Me

Here's a pretty good little film with a story that makes the viewer stand up and take notice during the last twenty minutes. The moral behind it? Anyone can change and have a new heart. Really encouraging- and boy do I need that!

It's been a rough few weeks with too many projects, too many late nights, lots of stress and not enough sleep. I've forgotten where my strength comes from, and as a result, I've been crabby and self focused. Pretty selfish, actually. Feeling a lot like the great apostle Paul when he wonders who can save him from himself. Oh, despicable me! I know the answer is always Jesus. Not Jesus plus something. Not something plus a little Jesus- and certainly not religion! That's where my new heart is, my hope, and my strength. His way is always best even though it is the hardest choice. When will I learn and quit relying on myself to make it through? I just gotta press into Jesus and let him rule me. Know what I mean?

July 27, 2010

Three to Go

Stubbornly debating the last three entries in my Disney Park Countdown list. Epcot? Disneyland Paris? Walt's original Magic Kingdom, Disneyland? One thing is for sure- I'd love to be at any of these right about now!

July 26, 2010

Last Trip to Endor: Star Tours Headed to an Upgrade!

It was thrilling upon opening. (I was there!) Now, it is passe, with its ideas borrowed at shopping malls all over America. And it was borrowed by Disney itself when Body Wars opened at Epcot in Future World's Wonders of Life pavilion.

Star Tours at Disneyland finally closes tonight for a long deserved upgrade. Too many questions waiting to be answered!

Will it incorporate aspects of Tokyo DisneySea's Stormrider? Probably. Is Imagineering's Tom Fitzgerald the right guy to direct the work from Disney's end opposite George Lucas? Most likely. Film is his thing. Will the end result draw in the crowds? Yes, the effects should astound even in 3D. Will the revamp be the last thing for Disneyland for awhile? Only if Tron:Legacy bombs...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

The Ultimate Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report

Want to discover the absolute best Tokyo Disney Resort trip report? It covers Tokyo, Japan at large, the parks ( Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea), and an incredible array of photos. All you have to do is go to Miceage and follow this link. Be warned, you'll be addicted- and want to book your tickets to Japan as soon as you can!

July 23, 2010

Of Mermaids, Beasts, and Harry Potter

Lots of talk about Walt Disney World's Fantasy Forest, its impact on the Magic Kingdom and whether or not it is going to be a successful attempt at drawing some attention and guests away from Universal's Harry Potter and his Wizarding World.

As a long time park visitor, it is about time the suits and Imagineers give Florida's Fantasyland a redo. It's pretty ugly, especially compared to the parks that came after it- and maybe even Shanghai Disneyland's version to come. While I love the idea of Little Mermaid and the Beauty and the Beast restaurant, it is entirely true that the focus is too girl-centric in this remake. But let's look backward at Walt's original Kingdom...

Although Disneyland's Fantasyland is more stunning than what is found in Florida, it would be very understandable to think that Disneyland's Fantasyland was perfect from the beginning. The theme seems timeless, and yet this part of the park has seen its own fair share of ongoing change and revsioning. Look at this 1957 park map.

Attractions have been enhanced, added or replaced. (And what will happen now to Alice in Wonderland?) In the early 1980's, colorful but simple tournament tent-like show building facades painstakingly transformed into elegant and stylized versions of European locales. A mountain is built from scratch, while a slice of a beloved Neverland disappears, only to resurface at Disneyland Paris a decade later. (Could Neverland be a part of Imagineering's new thought for Florida's Magic Kingdom? Wouldn't that be great!)

Change is always part of the Kingdoms. Walt said it would be this way. Love it, hate it, or have mixed feelings about it, California Adventure's unprecedented transformation is the biggest proof yet of this truism, as that dismal little park becomes something amazing from its main gate forward.

Lastly, change in plans is also part of the kingdoms. After all, just think of how many attractions have been announced that have never materialized. Fantasy Forest is just beginning to take shape. The company may yet come up with something that will appeal to all ages, not just mermaid loving humans.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 22, 2010

Symphonicities: No Lounge Lizard for Sting!

Trust me- This is a really good album! Sting's orchestral ramblings in the truly adventureous Symphonicity pay off. Avoiding the lounge lizard trap, Sting enjoys himself for our benefit as well. Best of the lot: "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic", the fresh take on "Roxanne", the gorgeous "I Hung My Head" and "When We Dance". And the songs sound just as terrific on tour. (See my review here.) Well done.

July 21, 2010

SamLand Spends Disneyland's 55th at the Family Museum

We all know Sam Gennawey writes a great blog. Now, you've got to read his piece on Samland about the celebration of Disneyland's 55th anniversary at the Walt Disney Family Museum. You will love the stories never heard before. Go here.

July 20, 2010

Disney Park Countdown- #4 The Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Tough, tough choices as I approach the Top Four on the list! As I said earlier, these top choices are as far removed from the ones below it, as far as could be. So, on with the countdown. At Number 4- Walt Disney World's original and beautiful Florida park- The Magic Kingdom.

There is a magic that is Walt Disney World, a magic that existed at its opening almost 40 years ago, a magic that still exists today. It's not a kingdom without its deserved criticisms, but Florida's first Disney park shines above it all.

As a Californian where the smaller, more charming, and original Disneyland was my "home" park, it would be easy to think that I have little attachment to the Magic Kingdom. You'd be wrong! From my trips there as a young teen, to visits with my children, to my last visit in 2009, I still get a rush journeying by ferry over the Seven Seas Lagoon and walking under Main Street's elaborate train station. That first view of the castle still wows me.

The grand scale and scope of the place sets the Magic Kingdom apart from the one graced by Walt's steps as do its many unique attractions. Just going down that list is pretty impressive for a park often dismissed as a lesser clone of Disneyland: The Hall of Presidents, Country Bear Jamboree, Swiss Family Treehouse, Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Carousel of Progress, and my favorite 3D film, Mickey's Philharmagic.

In my earlier visits, If You Had Wings ("...had wings, had wings, had wings...") was a must see, the Plaza Swan Boats circled the plaza, the Mickey Mouse Revue played to packed houses, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride ran double courses around London and the countryside, and the stunning Nautilus submarines cruised the Fantasyland waters on its 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea journey with Captain Nemo. In later years, the truly edgy Alien Encounter and the entertaining Timekeeper were the centerpiece of a stunning Tomorrowland remodel. Granted today's line up also includes missteps with attractions from the awful Stitch's Great Escape to the out of place Monsters Inc: Laugh Floor!
Liberty Square remains one of the most beautiful and delicately imagined Disney lands in any park. This tribute to Americana and those who gained our initial freedom is at once patriotic, inspiring, and unique. Walking through the area and taking in its sights brings me a thousand miles away from Central Florida. The entire experience of Liberty Square is much more effective than the singular building and attraction of the American Adventure at Epcot.

Regarding the remaining lands, only Tomorrowland and Main Street U.S.A. are very effective, but even those suffer from the character infusion in the land of the future and the shopping experience the "turn of the century" has turned into. Frontierland feels remote but pressed back into a corner. It needs something new. Adventureland was once beautiful. The overall atmosphere and mystique has been destroyed, with Caribbean Plaza needing to see the return of its unique blend of entertainment, shopping, and eateries. For now, Fantasyland pales compared to its other cousins. (Hong Kong Disneyland's version is its equal from what I can see.) Honestly, each Disney park has its imperfections. The Magic Kingdom is no exception, although its size and scale makes them more obvious.

Dining in the Magic Kingdom offers much variety. The handsome Liberty Tree Tavern, the nautical Columbia Harbour House, and the beautiful Crystal Palace leap to mind as primary examples here. Certainly, dining inside Cinderella Castle is still great fun for little ones. Who can resist Main Street's Confectionary or a Mickey Mouse Ice Cream bar? That said, it is time to get the Diamond Horseshoe back to its high-kicking dancehall routines.

Shopping used to be pretty good here, especially when the Magic Kingdom was the sole park. In this aspect, Liberty Square was once the New Orleans Square of Florida- there was a perfumerie, antiques store, a shop that focused on American history, and a bigger emphasis on authentic goods and reproductions fitting the theme. These days, it is the same old story: the requisite Christmas shop, etc.

However, it is still the attractions that most define a park. When it comes to the Disney staples- adventures that almost require them being built for the opening of each additional Kingdom- it is a mixed bag of results. The newly improved Haunted Mansion has now moved past its California cousin, this Splash Mountain remains the best when in full working order, and Space Mountain's rockets offer an experience as different from that in California as it is from the one in Paris. Tomorrowland may have a couple of "dog" attractions at its entrance, but its architecture glows day or night! The energy of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority only adds to the excitement.

On the other side of the comparison equation, although I love the ending of Florida's It's A Small World, the exterior diminishes the wow factor to some degree. Pirates of the Caribbean, with the gorgeous fortress marking the queue still gives guests an abbreviated ride. Adventureland needs another makeover after the Aladdin themed addition, and the whole of Fantasyland is a disappointment when it comes to vast expanses of concrete replacing the lush gardens and green spaces of other parks. As I said, its a mixed bag. Yet even these inferior versions of Disney Imagineering staples outweigh the attractions found at California Adventure, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

What comes next to draw guests in? The Fantasyland Forest addition has its promising elements. The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure is at the top, but character meet and greets do not a Wizarding World of Harry Potter make. Ramblings of new experiences for Frontierland are starting to make the rounds, but rest assured, Disney suits will make sure the park remains stagnant for a few more decades before making another large investment into the park.

Five down, three to go. There's one park remaining from California, Florida and France. Which will be at the top? Stay posted.
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

July 19, 2010

Playing for Purpose

From the always excellent blog, CrossTraining:

"I Speak Soccer

Our last CoreTraining session with the team included the viewing of the soccer documentary “I Speak Soccer” (http://www.ispeaksoccer.com) and a discussion about the themes and issues raised by this look at the world’s game. Our journey went from Brazil to Thailand to Africa and interesting to all was a common theme that seemed to arise in that there is a token sense of spirituality that accompanies the “most beautiful game.”

For the Brazilians, there was much language which included “God” – how thankful they were to God for the game, the passion to play, the ability to play, etc. – and one almost felt invited into a family and welcomed even as a stranger into a home. For the Thai people, the expression was very different – as if the social, religious, and cultural values prevented certain formations of community and friendship – the “language” of football (soccer) felt more distant and cold with the Thai people than the warm, smiling Brazilians. In Nigeria, soccer and faith were again more tied together as soccer was a hopeful way out of the poverty, desperation, and suffering of the people.

If you have ever traveled across the borders of your own country or even the invisible boundaries that separate us culturally and ethnically within our cities, you know that there is a growing shift in the communities of the world. While technology claims to bring us closer together there is seemingly more that separates and divides and it is harder and harder to find common language and common ground... "

Go here for the rest.

July 17, 2010

Disneyland: America's Playground Turns 55!

Happy 55th Birthday to you, Disneyland!

Thank you, Walt, for dreaming up America's Playground- and to Roy Disney for having the business smarts to bring it all together! Lastly, thank you to all the First Generation Imagineers for breathing life into dreams. It is a world of laughter- and only tears when its time to go home.
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

July 16, 2010

Goofy's Sky School Silliness

According to the Los Angeles Times' article, work will soon begin on another makeover of a California Adventure carnival ride. Goofy's Sky School (notice the new spelling?) will be the new moniker for the old Mulholland Madness ride.

If the end result is like the Silly Symphony Swings or Mickey's Fun Wheel, I'd rather wait for a whole new attraction. But again, it does look like it will fit in better with the overall look of Paradise Pier. Maybe it's time for a new post on the Imagineering a New Dream series?
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 15, 2010

Disney Park Countdown- #5 Disney California Adventure

Drum roll, please... Coming in at Number 5- Disney California Adventure!

Once the laughing stock of the stateside Disney parks, Disneyland's younger sister is in the midst of a makeover fit for an ugly duckling. And what an ugly ducking it was!

Boasting the most unappealing entrance ever to a stateside park, DCA was an enormous failure for the company that produced it. Although the marketing frenzy was in full blitz upon its opening in 2001, the end result was a mish-mash of ideas and quality, and the public was smart enough to notice.

The place couldn't decide exactly what it was. Once inside, an ugly carnival made up the largest piece of real estate in the park, the Hollywood Backlot resembled a junkyard with all the exposed steel, and the quality and quantity of attractions made decades old Disney fans stand up and take notice for all the wrong reasons. The park was so cheaply designed, the concept art even looks mediocre! (Follow my "Bargain Basement Imagineering" series starting here.)

However, there were bits of elegance to be found in the Golden State forest and Winery, with small gems of attractions hidden inside the amazing Animation exhibit. Although the Wharf area consisted of only eateries, all combined these areas did give the park a slight World Showcase feel.

It's been almost a decade since opening, and the park has changed for the better overall. Things that were once weaknesses are beginning to be a small part of its strengths. In an economy still struggling, the many attractions that were imported from Walt Disney World are now saving me a trip to Florida!

I love The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Turtle Talk with Crush. Glad they are here, even if the former comes in an abbreviated form! Two 3D movies from Florida also show up - one from Animal Kingdom and one from the Studios, the Muppets. Then add in an Animation attraction that is better then the one in the Studios. The Great Movie Ride is the only attraction as an excuse left for visiting that Florida park. And it is one that will probably get passed over if I'm ever short on time.

As far as original attractions, Soarin' Over California, is a favorite! I still consider myself a Californian at heart, so flying over my home state never ceases to thrill me and add a tear to my eye. This attraction so perfectly fits in the park's Condor Flats area. Much more so than it ever can at Epcot's Future World! (But then, Crush fits so much better in The Seas pavilion!) Grizzly River Run seems like an entirely different attraction than the bland and too short Kali River Rapids, even though they are the same commonplace ride system. Lastly, as much as I hate the fact it is without a theme as strong as the other Disney coasters, California Screamin' is just too much fun! Still, there are not many unique attractions, unless you count the state fair types found in Paradise Pier- and I do not.

Of the newest additions, Tower aside, the Monsters Inc. dark ride succeeds the most. The story is great, and the execution far better than most of all the similar "C" ticket rides at Disneyland. Yes, I'd rank it up there- almost with Peter Pan! Other additions fall all over the scale. Bugs Land? Great theming, more carnival rides. Midway Mania? Fun and engaging but the park really didn't need it- aside from being the first piece of a Paradise Pier makeover. The theater presentation of Aladdin is the best Disney theme park production period.

Shopping? California Adventure is hardly worth the time and effort aside from Rushin' River Outfitters and Off the Page; the first for smartly themed outdoor gear and the second for Disney movie fans, as the place is filled with animation art and books on the subject. Everything else? Well, think High School Musical and Hannah Montana.

On the other hand, the dining options were once varied and plentiful, then shabby, and now getting better. (A coffeehouse inside a train? How cool is that?) I think the Disney suits decided its guests really love some great choices along the lines of those found at Epcot's World Showcase and Disney's Animal Kingdom. Looks like eateries and atmosphere for dining are going to get better and better- especially if the terrific Marachi Divas continue to play on the Wharf!

In 2010, we are almost at the half way point in the park's one billion dollar makeover. The results have focused on making the Pier truly a slice of paradise by revamping the steel rides with a fast and cheap cosmetic makeover. The changes to the games, shops, and restaurants are in process. A lavish Little Mermaid attraction is on the way. (Had they built the originally conceived Circle of Hands, would we ever see Mermaid?) There is finally a nighttime show- the well received World of Color. More is on thee way. (In fact, my blog series on California Adventure's art has transformed into a series entitled Imagineering a New Dream- and you can find it here.) As the park now stands, it currently holds some of my favorite attractions from Walt Disney World and will soon add a version of another (Radiator Springs Racers is Test Track transformed.)

Longtime readers of this blog might ask, "What changed your mind about California Adventure?" after noticing it is now above the two lesser parks in Florida. The answer is pretty simple. With a much better variety of attractions and experiences than at opening, the park is becoming a place that is just plain fun! It doesn't shove an agenda in your face like Animal Kingdom, and it isn't just an excuse to push the latest Disney film and its merchandise like the Studios. The future also looks bright with the coming Buena Vista Street and Cars Land. In fact, there is so much change coming, my next "Best Of" list may be revised in a few years.

Speaking of this list, like the transformation of California Adventure, we are also at the half way point. Just as the Walt Disney Studios Paris is in a (poor) class all its own, the three I just ranked are still many notches below the ones remaining. The Top Four ranked parks are so close to each other, it is making committing to my decision difficult. Very difficult.

(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

July 14, 2010

Mel Gibson Waiting Repair

For a man once on top of the world, Mel Gibson has sunk to the bottom of the heap. He is a brilliantly insane actor and producer, a man with a sense of how to tell a story. Be it something inspiring as Passion of the Christ or as playful as What Women Want, Mel knows how to put it together. That is, in his professional life.

In his personal life, well, Mel is certainly proving how broken and human he is! Too much wine, women, and song. Sadly, he has become abusive in too many ways to fathom. Regardless of any facts, wounding, addictions, etc., he is still responsible for his actions. There is only one excuse for this kind of behavior- he is broken just like the rest of us. I'm broken, aren't you? I am so thankful for Jesus and the hope and transformation he brings as we give ourselves to Him!

July 13, 2010

Disney Park Countdown- #6 Disney's Hollywood Studios

We continue on with my countdown of Disney's parks, based on the eight I have personally visited...

Let's talk about Number 6: Disney's Hollywood Studios, also known as the park that opened as Disney-MGM Studios in 1989. A very brief hgistory of this park gives us a glimpse of the problems still associated with it.

Back in the 80's, things were booming in Central Florida, and The Walt Disney Company was trying to compete with the soon to be built Universal Studios. The fiercely competitive Michael Eisner was at the helm, and plans were quickly announced to the public. Disney would open its own film based theme park by the end of the decade along with a massive expansion unprecedented in the history of the company. (Just how massive? Take a look at a series of postings about the expansion of Walt Disney World in 1989 starting here. I was there- and I have included dozens of my original photos.)

With the time crunch of the Imagineers and the thought this would be Disney's first official "half-day" park, the Disney-MGM Studios debuted with the smallest attraction roster ever seen in a park built by the company as well as the smallest amount of acreage used to date. The park's layout was awful at opening. Flash forward over 20 years later, and it is much the same.

Why do the Studio parks seem to rank so low with me? Too many theater shows, too many attractions using film as the primary storytelling medium, and not enough rides that move the guest.

However, the strengths of Disney's Hollywood Studios are plenty! The park still has the premier version of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Regardless of the hoopla surrounding the benefits/detractions of the fifth dimension room, the surrounding gardens and overall presentation and placement makes the original Tower stand tall compared to its sisters in Paris and California.

The elaborate but somewhat dated Great Movie Ride remains a must see as it is filled with great sets and Audio-Animatronic figures. Could it use an updating and refreshing? Absolutely- and Disney should be ashamed for letting the park's centerpiece attraction lay mostly unchanged and then obstucted from the outside by the large Sorcerer's Apprentice hat. A very bad show on both counts- but the ride itself is still great fun!

One Man's Dream, reminding guests of the incredible man who started it all and his vision, is a new century version of The Walt Disney Story once housed at Disneyland and in Florida's Magic Kingdom. Any true Disney geek/historian has got to see this place to believe it! The combination of park models, the artwork, and the movie about his life make this a must-see attraction.

Star Tours is on par with its cousins in other locales, but the unique Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular remains as thrilling and fun as it was at my first viewing. This attraction is nowhere else to be found, making it another Florida only attraction. The concept of unique attractions at individual parks makes each resort special, something forgotten with the current Disney management.

Dining here is a mixed bag, but when it is good, it is great: The 50's Prime Time Cafe and Brown Derby are terrific. Even though the Sci-Fi Dine In serves some pretty overpriced and bland dishes, how can you beat the atmosphere?

Shopping used to be pretty good, and it is still better than many of the other parks. At the opening, the authentic looking bungalow housing Sid Cahuenga's was one of many places to go for enchanting Hollywood memoribilia. Nowadays, it seems like mostly the latest Pixar stuff or Hannah Montana trash and trinkets, but you can still find some great things if you look for them. Time to update and retrofit the shops, I'd say. The whole park as well.

It's not that the park hasn't been updated. The wonderful Monster Sound Studio has been replaced by the disasterous attraction starring Drew Carey. (And I really like the guy!) The timeless Superstar Television has given way to American Idol; something I am sure the suits will one day regret. The once terrific Studio Tram Tour is now as empty an expedition as the one in Paris.

Certainly, there are aspects of the park that have not been updated or have been demolished to poor effect. Florida's Fantasmic! pales compared to California's version. The Beauty and the Beast stageshow is past its prime, the Animation Tour has lost its heart, and the park has lost its focus.

Park layout is as frustrating and confusing as ever. The terrific looking Pixar Place creates a huge traffic jam as folks love the showhorned Toy Story Midway Mania. (If they truly do open the oft rumored Monsters Inc. coaster, the Imagineers had better create a lengthy in building queue for the throngs of folks waiting to ride.)

Crowd control is even worse surrounding the American version of Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show. Yet areas of the park are strangely empty, creating pockets that feel like a ghost town.
It is clear twenty years later that Disney was rushed in creating the place, leaving a jumbled mess of a puzzle to be solved by someone else- someday. There's no leader here as with Bob Weis for California Adventure (who was very involved with the Studios at conception), Tony Baxter for Disneyland or Joe Rohde for Animal Kingdom. Will the problems ever be truly addressed or will the park remain in limbo?
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

July 12, 2010

Space Mountain: Excitement All Over the World

Note: While I finish up my next post on the Disney Parks Top Ten (Minus Two) list, here is one of my most popular posts- ever:
Space Mountain. The name alone evokes excitement for theme park fans all over the world. Whether it is the classic, iconic structure found in Florida, California, and Tokyo; a similar takeoff placed in a Tomorrowland that almost feels kid drawn in Hong Kong; or the elegant Jules Verne styled masterpiece in Paris, the sheer sight of the mountain makes millions of visitors run toward it with anticipation. For this generation, blasting off through the universe has become a right of passage for young Disney fans, but it wasn’t always this way.

Walt Disney had long passed away when Space Mountain debuted at Florida’s Magic Kingdom in 1975. The thrill ride was part of a slew of much needed additions for Tomorrowland. Like most all of the early classic attractions, however, its roots came from Walt himself many years before, and this ultimate thrill adventure was initially planned for his beloved original park in Anaheim.

America’s obsession with space travel provided the perfect timing for an attraction such as this. The future fascinated Walt. He loved science, space exploration, and new technologies. In addition to being an under appreciated businessman as well as a dreamer, fortunately, Walt was also a doer, and he assembled a team that could dream and create with him.

As discussions continued with the team, concept art for Walt’s Space Port, as it was originally named began to emerge. Many different looks were considered before settling on the timeless exterior familiar with fans in the States, and Imagineers Herb Ryman and John Hench each came up with designs that would be somewhat merged for the final result. Plans for Disneyland’s new Tomorrowland of the sixties included the attraction, but other priorities took precedence, leaving Florida to open the attraction a couple of years before it finally hit California soil.

Once the design was settled upon, a detailed model was built, giving the Imagineers a chance to view how the attraction would fit into the Magic Kingdom.

Upon its opening, Space Mountain became an instant fan favorite and theme park classic. With its thrills, the experience was a strong bid for the youth market who found much of the Magic Kingdom park too tame with its emphasis on slow moving attractions and cabaret shows like Tropical Serenade (Enchanted Tiki Room), Country Bear Jamboree, and The Mickey Mouse Revue. The trend setting Mountain transformed into a park staple, with pale imitations created all over the world in an attempt to capitalize on its success. Even if you are not a Disney fan, chances are you know the name, probably recognize its timeless form, and are well aware of the adventure within. Another Walt inspired masterpiece.

“The blessing of size” as Walt said with regards to his Florida project, enabled the Imagineers to create a dual tracked Space Mountain for the younger Magic Kingdom park. Disneyland’s smaller footprint demanded a similar but much smaller mountain back in Anaheim, bringing with this change a single track, different loading zone, and a much tighter flight course. Debates continue as to which mountain provides the better experience but both are beloved and appreciated for their differences.

Living in Southern California during the time of its construction gave me the opportunity to watch the attraction grow over time. Prior to the opening of California Adventure, it was possible to enter the parking lot area by Space Mountain with your car, and I took advantage of the opportunity to drive by often, inspecting the progress. When the attraction finally opened in 1977, I was among the first in line to take flight. And what a line it was! At one point, the queue snaked down Main Street and the hours passed as flights were on then off during its test period. The experience was quite the rush as at opening with the atmosphere darker, the rockets faster, and the journey unfamiliar. Even after thirty years and multiple changes in exterior color and interior enhancements, the thrill has not grown stale.

The ability to hand pick from two differently designed Disney kingdoms resulted in giving the Japanese guests a very interesting version of the first overseas Disneyland. When the park opened in 1983, guests found this one to have an entirely different feel, a blending of both American parks and few unique elements at opening. Surprisingly, even with access to the larger Florida version, the Japanese chose the California attraction as the one to be duplicated.

European fans that trekked to the Sunshine or Golden States for a Disney fix were surprised when the lovely and uniquely designed Paris park added Space Mountain in 1995. The iconic white mountain was replaced by a gorgeously themed and wonderfully executed Jules Verne inspired adventure.

Originally planned as Discovery Mountain, the attraction inside was as different from its cousins as was its exterior: the open air loading station sends its rockets into a smoke-spewing cannon as guests are launched into the mountain. The track layout included multiple inversions- the first for a Disney park- and the inclusion of a majestic musical score to accompany the journey. This new twist on an old favorite brought in the crowds. Some would debate it even saved the resort.

Although the exterior building concepts remained largely the same, the Imagineers presented several different ideas for what was to be built inside the mountain. In addition to Space Mountain, ideas ranged from a Nautilus adventure including a restaurant inside the submarine to a unique use of the technology that makes The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror so popular for an additional attraction themed to a different Jules Verne novel. (For more information and concept art, track down the wonderful book Disneyland Paris, From Sketch to Reality by Alain Littaye and Didier Ghez.)

Upon our first visit to Paris in 1998, Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune, and Phantom Manor were at the top of my must-do list. The ride was as wonderful and thrilling as I had imagined it would be! I couldn’t wait to ride it again and promptly returned to the queue for another trip. In its own unique way, viewing the mountain and watching the Columbiad cannon send explorers on their journey was as compelling as seeing the beautiful Eiffel Tower. I couldn’t take my eyes off the attraction. Beautiful during the day and absolutely spectacular at night with its magnificent lighting, this Space Mountain is the ultimate execution of the concept.

The opening of the first Disneyland in China, Hong Kong Disneyland (2005), provided an opportunity for building yet another version of the Magic Kingdom classic. Due to budget adjustments and misguided opinions of what should constititute the park, it remains short on attractions. However, the famous Space Mountain was a must for opening day. The setting of the Chinese Tomorrowland is more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon than previous versions, but the mountain itself is a near duplicate of California's. In a new take on the mountain's use and design, it also houses an attraction based on the main character from Lilo and Stitch.

Where will the next other worldy mountain show up? Some folks are sure it will be in Shanghai, but only the Disney executives truly know. For all the questions we may have, one thing is certain. Space Mountain in all its incarnations, will continue to thrill and fascinate millions of guests looking for a chance to explore the universe and then return safely home!

(All concept art and Tokyo Disneyland photos copyright The Walt Disney Company; all other photos by Mark Taft)