September 30, 2010

Blogged Down

One Hundred Ten! 110! Eleventy! 2 x 5 x 11!

You get the point.

That is the exact number of drafts I have sitting waiting to be completed. Wow. Or "Whoa!" on the days I am really tired. So many articles, so many series I have started and never completed. Unique takes on the worlds of Disney, music, television, movies, family, faith, travel, fun.

I'm starting to feel a bit overwhelmed just thinking about it, but at the same time, somewhat encouraged as I have so many interesting things started. Hang with me- fresh posts are on the way! And thanks for reading!

September 29, 2010

New Fantasyland Concept Art

While we patiently wait for new concept art for Florida's Magic Kingdom and its renewal of Fantasyland, let's remember the Imagineers absolutely amazing work done for Disneyland's Fantasyland which premiered in 1983.

A couple of decades before plans for Ariel's Undersea Adventure arose, Tony Baxter and his team were hard at working creating the Fantasyland Walt Disney always envisioned for his original park. These concepts for the Mad Tea Party and a revised Dumbo, the Flying Elephant, were just a small part of how the land would look upon completion.

Money was tight back in 1954 and 1955, and Walt had to sacrifice, with his high flying Tomorrowland and Fantasyland taking the biggest hit. Almost 30 years later, Fantasyland became most like what was first envisioned: a small European flavored village surrounding the castle instead of the tournament tents that were there at opening day.

The revisioned Fantasyland became such a success that Disneyland Paris' version was modeled on this plan, although enlarged and enhanced to near perfection. Should the Magic Kingdom's redo become a smash, it could become the new standard for future Disneyland styled parks. Odds look pretty good- once the thing is truly announced and we can see it for ourselves!
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 28, 2010

Masculine Ambiguity I

Don't be deceived by the hormonally enhanced Sly Stallone here. Masculine ambiguity is alive and well in the United States! What truly defines a man is his actions. Doing the right thing by his wife, his children, his friends and neighbors.

September 27, 2010

Old School United Kingdom at EPCOT Center

Back when EPCOT Center's World Showcase looked more like an industrial exhibition, the United Kingdom was represented by this storefront approach to design. This photograph first appeared in the company's 1975 annual report.

As you can see, the design had its roots in the 70's- and it lacked the charm of the World Showcase we would know and love, the one that debuted to the public. Thankfully, wisdom prevailed, and a new design plan was initiated. The beautiful blue Florida skies soon became filled with representations of famous landmarks rather than silhouettes of something that resembled the Magic Kingdom's instantly dated Tomorrowland. And aren't we glad!
(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 24, 2010

Hat Box Ghost Coming to Disneyland!

From the D23 presentation, the long talked about Hat Box Ghost will be coming to Disneyland's Haunted Mansion... Good news for Disneyland and old school Imagineering fans!

September 20, 2010

Disney Park Countdown #1 - Disneyland

The Original. Walt's Kingdom. The One That Started It All.

For many reasons, it became evident to me while I was compiling the list and writing the posts that my Number One Disney Park on the Countdown just had to be Disneyland. (The whole countdown starts here.) I'll save the personal stories until later on, but Walt's original park topped the list for far more than personal reasons. For now, let's compare Disneyland to the other parks on the list and in the same categories: Attractions, Dining, Shopping, Maintenance being the main items.

Regardless of how you arrive at Disneyland's front gates, there is something moving and timeless about finally being here. Viewing the train station and iconic Mickey Mouse floral from the other side of the turnstiles, you realize there is an old fashioned intimacy and charm about the place. Unlike much of the grand scale presentation of Walt Disney World, the smaller Disneyland doesn't scream "I'm a commercial for The Walt Disney Company". Instead it seems to be the intoxicating and subtle whisper of "I'm a part of history; come explore".

The attractions found here are Disney's greatest hits- with variations on their themes forming the foundation of many of the subsequent Disney theme parks. The Jungle Cruise. Peter Pan's Flight. Mark Twain Riverboat. Autopia. The Disneyland Railroad and it's Primeval World. Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Matterhorn Bobsleds. Submarine Voyage. Monorail. (Swiss Family/)Tarzan's Treehouse. Enchanted Tiki Room. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. It's A Small World. Pirates of the Caribbean. The Haunted Mansion. Star Tours. Splash Mountain. Indiana Jones Adventure... the list seems endless. In addition to the greatest number of "dark rides" in any park, Disneyland has more real attractions than the three "secondary" Disney parks in Florida combined. Unlike some of the versions of these attractions found elsewhere, these are the full length originals. Many others are unique to Disneyland, only adding to the richness of the roster.

Not only is the attraction line-up stellar, the upkeep is as well. Disneyland is top notch in maintenance, upgrades, and enhancements. From seasonal overlays to continual tinkering by bringing new technology to perennial favorites and overlooked gems, the park is constantly changing. The love and care for the place manifests itself in gorgeous gardens and small corners where detail could be overlooked but isn't. Even upper levels of the structures reveals care is taken in areas not easily seen, something not uniformly found elsewhere- especially at the beautiful but neglected Disneyland Paris.

Mature trees add something special as well. This natural berm around the park, and plenty of shade in it, bring a sense of natural beauty that quite enhances the man made pleasures. Newer Disney parks aside from Disney's Animal Kingdom cannot compete with this organic handiwork. The Walt Disney Company would do well to learn this is one of the major shortcomings in the Studios themed parks and in California Adventure. As with the use of trees and shrubs and flowers, the Imagineers made excellent use of water at Disneyland. With its rivers and streams, ponds and lagoons, this helps sustain a refreshing environment even on the hottest of Southern California's summer days.

The opportunities for fine dining do not rival Epcot, but the variety of options more than holds its own with the other magic kingdoms. And there is more to be found than the expected hamburgers and hot dogs. Fans old and new rave about the atmosphere of the expensive Blue Bayou, but the delicate interior of the Plaza Inn Restaurant is every bit as inviting. For a rustic, get-away-from-it-all feeling, the patio of the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country hits the spot. If you're looking for something that feels like World Showcase at Epcot, the lovely Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante in Frontierland will give you pretty decent food in a serene setting. The beautiful patio with its tile work and abundance of bougainvillea seem a thousand miles away from Anaheim.

Snacking is a favorite past time here, too. What would a day of walking the park be without fresh popcorn, a Dole Whip, or a bag of chocolate licorice? In the evening, I've just got to have a mint julep and a fritter as I watch the Mark Twain round the bend from a seat in New Orleans Square!

Retail options, which are part of each park experience, are mixed. Yes, the Disney Channel stars are in full bloom here, and you couldn't expect the park executives to miss a chance to sell character dolls, plush animals, or Star Wars, Jack Sparrow, or Indiana Jones related items. Beyond the expected, take some time to browse some hidden nooks in each land. There are still some themed appropriate surprises waiting to be sold that don't add double duty to the Disney Company's bottom line.

Best of all, Disneyland remains the park to be emulated when it comes to park and attraction specific merchandise. The Disney Gallery is full of gems both old and new. Nostalgia reigns king, and stylized designs celebrating the richness of Disneyland history are found on items for every budget.

There is one area in which Disneyland is on par with Epcot. That is in the realm of live entertainment. The evening fireworks and Fantasmic performances are only the icing on a beautiful cake. The Golden Horseshoe continues to hold live shows and serves real food. The Jedi Academy, although not a personal favorite, is a hit with younger kids and those of the Star Wars generation. From the barber shop quartet to the jazz musicians and other talented folk, the sounds of live music fill the air. It is not common these days for Disneyland to feature top selling recording artists, but in decades past, they have hosted artists from Louis Armstrong and Buddy Rich to the Osmonds and Richard and Karen Carpenter.

It would be easy to think that 55 years of operation and expansion would be the primary advantage for Disneyland placing first among all other parks in the Disney kingdom. In many ways, this is true. However, the years have not always been so kind. And the historical charm and significance of Disneyland also creates some unique disadvantages. There are those who would like to keep Disneyland rooted in its past. (This article about the Disneyland Historical Preservation Society explains much about this philosophy.)

Perhaps in response to this tendency or just a desire to push more merchandise, there has been a marked increase in the characterization of attractions. Although I love the look of the treehouse, fiberglass figures from the Tarzan movie cheapen the experience. The same can be said for Nemo invading the submarines. Am I thrilled they are once again in operation? Sure- where else can you ride in one? Yet there has to be story lines for a great attraction that do not rely on excuses to cram more characters into the park. There are already places for the animated stars- see Mickey's Toon Town and Fantasyland, should the urge strike to bring them in. If they do not fit the theme of the land, they don't belong to be added there. Bringing them in only exhibits a lack of true imagination.

As much as Disneyland is always improving, it is very stagnant- embarrassingly so- when it comes to new attractions. There are vast areas of land that could be used for new attractions, new lands to explore. In fact, renovations aside, there hasn't been a truly new "E" ticket attraction since the premier of the Indiana Jones Adventure in 1995!

Perhaps the disaster of Tomorrowland 1998 made the company suits and money men gun shy. Disneyland's Tomorrowland is the poorest excuse for the land found in any Magic Kingdom styled park. Even Hong Kong Disneyland's look to the "future" makes no excuse for its intent, and from its character-infused design standpoint, it seemingly succeeds. The 2010 version of the future in California is a far cry from the incarnation of 1967. (See Vintage Disneyland Tickets' great post about Tomorrowland '67 here- and just for the record, I loved the Peoplemover and the Rocket Rods!)

Either way, the Disney Company management is resting on its laurels and playing to Disneyland's nostalgic appeal. This is a short-sighted perspective and a real shame. Blame can be placed clearly on CEO Robert Iger for this faulty and unfortunate focus of direction. Even the second decade mistakes of previous leader Michael Eisner did not detract him from believing Disneyland could continue without being forward thinking, nor did any of the leaders before Eisner.

There are other issues keeping Walt's original kingdom from being all it could be. During even slightly busy seasons, walking through the park is now difficult. Pick a land, any one, and you'll find the walkways are crowded. The journey from Main Street U.S.A. through Adventureland into New Orleans Square is a constant mess, and navigating through Fantasyland via the castle is almost as bad. Note to the suits here: the coming rebirth of California Adventure will only bring more folks, not less, to Disneyland. Better plan for this now and think it through! The ease of mobility enhances the experience, so remove inconvenience. It is just not safe to be in a crushing crowd during Christmas trying to walk through the It's A Small World area back to the front of the park. Think of the publicity nightmare should a fire ever break out in the area at that time.

Capacity, stagnancy, and character invasions aside, there is so much to love about the place! In my decades of visiting the park, I have never regretted spending the cash to do so. Be it a solo trip (where I "geek out" looking for details and ride attractions others wouldn't wait for) to a full family excursion (which is pricey but priceless in memories), a day at Disneyland remains a tradition when visiting the Golden State.

I've seen so many changes over the years- many more than I would admit to, but it is part of what builds my attachment to the park as I anticipate its future. From a young boy to a grown man, I have watched the transformation of those acres and been fascinated by the results. Not always happy about them but fascinated none the less.

Beyond nostalgia, there are other pieces of the overall feel of the park that draw me in. As the United States moves away from the concepts and ideologies that have made us a strong, God-fearing nation, there is something reassuring about the inherent and sometimes obvious patriotism that Walt built into the park. The Flag Retreat Ceremony and the Christmas Candlelight Processional are just two reasons the park stirs emotions beyond adrenaline rushes from thrill rides and character meets. Things have changed over the years- and how could they not during 55 years of growth and transformation- but American ideals have remained a constant. Even if it is now the highly held value of consumerism!;)

Change is and should always be the order of the day. Balancing the honoring of the park's roots with the future will be tricky! But I remember so much! The days of the Welch's Grape Juice Bar and Skull Rock are as vivid in my mind as my latest trip through Haunted Mansion Holiday. The Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland and Adventures Thru Inner Space are as fresh a memory as my recent spin through Winnie the Pooh's forest. I can vividly recall my opening day journey with Indiana Jones as well as I can remember my oldest son's first ride through America Sings. Somehow, the artistic talent of the Imagineers of all ages has helped ingrain these experiences into my collective memory- and this blog alone testifies to the impact that Disneyland has had on me. (Plus there seems to be tons of trip reports here on it as proof!)
Ultimately, Disneyland succeeds because the memories created there are so very personal for the millions of new guests and those returning year after year. Your actual mileage may vary, but here in brief form are a list of my must-do Disneyland experiences:
  • A trip through the Blue Bayou with the Pirates of the Caribbean always tells me I've "come home". What is it about the moonlight, the smell, the caverns, that draw me into a world that says "Disneyland" so clearly?

  • "It's a Small World"- OK, I love the song and love the environment. Makes me feel like a kid as much as a journey over Neverland or a wild ride with Mr. Toad.

  • Exploring the icy slopes of the Matterhorn. Either course works, and the rough old-school feel of the track reminds me Walt was so right to put this in his park. Perfect when the Christmas parade is passing by!

  • I always sense a bit of America's innocence lost and the life of my grandparents as I slowly walk Main Street U.S.A. The shops, the sound of horse's hooves on the pavement, the old time party line telephone in the Market House remind me of gentler years and a slower pace of life. A leisurely trip on the Disneyland Railroad is always a pleasure.

  • Cruising the Rivers of America on the Mark Twain at night. From hearing a bit of jazz from the shore to hearing next to nothing as it rounds the bend into the back waters, it is a simple and magical experience.

  • Sitting on a bench anywhere in the park watching people. Really!

  • Walking through the castle and hearing the kids laugh while riding the carousel. Or going to the castle candy shop. Simples pleasures.

  • A late evening trip on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It's a fun ride during the day, but at night- especially from the back car- I just get a rush from the ride. Looking over the rest of the park from the top of the last hill is just so cool.

  • Just one more- an almost closing time trip through the Haunted Mansion. New Orleans Square is one of the best Disney lands ever, and it is my favorite place to hang out. It's elegant, winding streets make a perfect backdrop for the small shops and restaurants that line them. You can hear music in the air even when there is no one around! The food here is good wherever you choose to eat, the whole thing rich in detail. Lastly, this land shows Disney Imagineering at its best, and it showcases the two finest attractions ever created by the company. Period.
A bit of self indulgent storytelling here: In the days when the park was open until 1:00am and the crowds thinned out long before, I just had to walk to the back end of the park to go in the mansion by the river. In my middle teens, my family and I planned a visit to the park. At the end of the night, we temporarily split up so we could each do one last thing. I chose the Mansion.

Walking up to the doors, I was the last one let in- and I soon discovered, the only one inside. To experience the attraction totally alone, well, there was nothing like it. Needless to say, this fact did not go unnoticed by the attraction hosts, and more then once the ride stopped mid way through and the sound turned off. I sat in the darkened silence, listening and waiting. Pretty soon, my imagination took me places I never intended to go.

Eventually, I got to the end of the line and departed my silent Doombuggy. Unexpectedly, a quite "in character" host jumped out from behind me- and without hesitation, I quickly ran up the ramp and back outside into the night. It was a ride I will never forget- and one last reason why Disneyland is at the top of my countdown: Those who work in the park understand they are helping guests make priceless memories, and like Walt Disney himself, they delight in exceeding their customer's expectations. For those of you behind the scenes and those in the center of them, thank you for the memories and those to come.
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

September 17, 2010

Trouble in Paradise

Fridays are my day off- and it is a good thing! In the Fall through Spring, it is a great day for me to be quiet and peaceful. Maybe I'll start or finish new projects, write some blog articles (including that now long overdue Disney Park Countdown finale), go to the gym or whatever. But it always begins with a morning cup of coffee and some time reading the Bible and praying.

Reading through the gospel of Luke very slowly these days. I'm asking God to take these truths from His word and make them real- and to challenge me as to where my life falls short of His standards. Today, I'm in chapter 13. Jesus addresses the people telling them everyone who tries to enter heaven will not be allowed in. Ouch! So, who does?

Earlier in the chapter, Jesus uses a parable to explain. A man notices that a tree hasn't borne fruit but is using the resources of the earth, suggesting to another man it should be cut down. (Early "carbon footprint" discussion! As always, Jesus is a revolutionary!) The other man pleads for another year before making the decision.

Here's the connection between productivity and who gets into heaven. Surprisingly, it is not working to get in (see the book of John chapter 3 in particular and the writings of the Apostle Paul). Work is only our expression of our love for Jesus and our changed lives that reflect his priorities. The real answer lies in where we invest, where we are "grounded", what soil we plant in.

If our focus is on the pleasures of the earth and all its delights, we won't make it. But if our focus, our grounding, is in loving and delighting Jesus Christ and living our lives with integrity, then we have found the true and only narrow way to an eternal life with him. It's either Heaven or Hell at the end of all things. And because God has given us the choice to choose which way we will live our lives, we get to decide how to make the most of it in this temporary life with eternal results.

You might ask why I see trouble in paradise. It would grieve my heart to know so many of my family and friends will not be there. Their focus is on money and other pleasures, and I watch them drift away from the God they once loved. They have decided to place their trees in other soil.

For others, they either see God as a fallacy or only look at him as fire insurance, assured their individual trees won't be destroyed in the fire. It is quite risky a conclusion to make when Jesus says the gate to heaven is narrow!

What can I say? If I am wrong and historic Christianity is a fairly tale, and God doesn't exist, I've lost nothing. If Jesus truly is the only way to eternal life- which He said he is- then I have gained it. May my heart stay steadfast to Him- and yours as well!

September 16, 2010

The Hunt is On

This is what you'll find me doing many nights of the week: searching cable and television shows for Criminal Minds. How I could have not found this series when it debuted in 2005, I do not know! The cast is terrific, but my personal favorite is the cool and smart headed Aaron Hotchner, played by "Dharma and Greg's" Thomas Gibson.

Obviously watching the series on cable means I've seen the variations of cast from year to year. Be it the great Mandy Patinkin- who left the show so early on, and why?- to sassy Paget Brewster (forever Kathy from Friends!) and the brilliantly played Dr. Spencer Reid by Matthew Gray Gubler, the show remains a must see. I was very partial to Lola Glaudini as Elle Greenaway and wondered why she left as well. She seemed to be the female equivalent of Hotch and played off his character nicely.

Regardless of who is on the screen, the show's become one of my all time favorites. Yes, the blood and guts gets to me at times, but I love that justice is served and criminals get their due. So many life lessons here! It only shows that evil exists, it is not just a force. We must choose to resist. Good will not always win in this life, and sometimes it all doesn't make sense. The truth is we reap what we sow- and we all have to answer for our actions. Something very important for the "It's all about me" mentality in the world we live in. The same mentality I can struggle with!

September 15, 2010

The Ties That Bind The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland

Oh my gosh! This is one of the most fascinating posts I have ever read about two of my favorite Disneyland attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Imagineer Eddie Sotto seems to have been involved in some new ideas to tie the two together using Jean Lafitte. (I had forgotten about this but had heard an interview with him on the subject awhile back.) No matter. Go to this post now to see a number of photos and the story in full. Spellbinding!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Disney's Mr. Incredible?

Robert Iger is certainly leaving his mark as CEO on the Walt Disney Company. Much like Michael Eisner before him, Mr. Iger is a man with a vision. But will he eventually be remembered as a villain or as a new century Mr. Incredible?

Here's just a few thoughts to consider before we start making our minds up. First, things do not always end as they start. Remember, Eisner was heralded as the savior of the company when he began, and he proved his interest, creativity, and wisdom in all things Disney during his first decade. Decade Two, well, you know the story. Not a happy ending.

Secondly, a great leader is backed up by a great team. Eisner had Frank Wells, who apparently kept the man in check. Iger looks like he has started well by bringing in John Lasseter into larger roles than just Pixar, but lately Bob seems to redirecting the company ship by heading down the wrong path by letting go of folks like Dick Cook.

Acquisitions are a big temptation and a potentially lucrative business decision for anyone leading a company with the resources of Disney. Pixar? Check. Marvel? Check. So far, seems like good moves on his part.

What other odds and ends? Oh yes, the parks. The bread and butter of the business along with the film division. Gotta give the man credit for his cajones in the forthright acknowledgement of the creative and financial failure of California Adventure. Then backing it up with a $1,000,000,000.00 plan worth of improvements. (Just count those zeroes!)

But balance that out by his involvement in the woefully dismal Hong Kong Disneyland, the increasing lack of maintenance and care of Walt Disney World, and how Shanghai Disneyland is being outsourced, and you just have to wonder what the guy is thinking. Long term or short term profits? A slippery slope balancing investor desires.

Mr. Iger's love of technology is well known, and his aggressive moves on making television web available is changing the industry. My hunch is this is only the beginning. The make up of the Board of Directors indicates my hunch will prove true.

As of right now, it is hard to tell how Robert Iger will be seen in the future. Let me give him this piece of advice- enjoy the successes and accept the failures as part of a learning process. Do what is best for people, be it giving them high quality entertainment options at fair prices or treating employees at all levels with respect and decent wages. In this, be full of integrity and honesty without greed. In doing so, you'll sleep well at night- and your legacy with the company will be one of honor.
(Art copyright Pixar/The Walt Disney Company.)

September 14, 2010

Two Thousand Words Worth

A reunion! If one equals a thousand, this was a whole book's worth!

September 13, 2010

The Hong Kong Disneyland That Never Was

Here's an interesting little piece of concept art from the new Imagineering book. An early concept for struggling and underdeveloped Hong Kong Disneyland park.

If you click on it and see it full size- (and you know you want to!), you'll notice the castle is at the back of Fantasyland, there is a lagoon for an evening show to the east side of Main Street, space set aside for the Indiana Jones Adventure, and much more. Like a Frontierland... It's full of little surprises!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 11, 2010

9/11: Heroes, the Mosque, and Common Sense

Remember this day. What a day of tragedy, but what a day for heroes! When radical Islam extremists decided to attack the United States of America on September 11, 2001, we as a people rallied together. Black, White, any color. Christian, Jew, Muslim, or one of a different or no faith. For a season, we were all Americans first.

Let us rally together now in prayer for our nation and remember the sacrifices of those serving and the loss of family and friends. Let us preserve our freedoms- but do it with sensitivity and common sense. Build that mosque out of earshot of Ground Zero. The daily calls to prayer from the mosque's tower should not be heard there. Why remind a greiving nation- one divided- reminders of a painful day in a manner that could cause more division among us?

September 10, 2010

Warning Blogspotters!

Due to a recent repositioning of features on Blogspot's management features, I mistakenly assumed that comments removed from this one "management only" area where affecting only the cataloguing of comments- not deleting the actual comments themselves. But, it was too late before I realized this, and inadventantly delated comments made on approximately 180 posts! My error. Be warned and learn from my fat and fast fingers...

New Imagination Ahead as Kodak Departs?

The rumor mill was running amuck, but the bottom line revealed truth: Kodak has abandoned its sponsorship of the once wonderful now awful Imagination pavilion at Epcot. The full details are here at the Sentinel. Maybe this will eventually bring a new lease on life- and a revision back to glory- or it may bring the final end a la Wonders of Life.

Imagineering Shanghaied in China

The latest news reported from, is that the Shanghai Disneyland project is set to be outsourced beyond Imagineering. Even though this was expected, it is quite a shame. This will be the first Disney resort handled by a group other than Imagineering. Ever. But, this is the new Walt Disney Company. It's profit and commerce over art. (See my post on this here.) Robert Iger again makes another culture changing decision. My rose colored glasses have been removed, as I mentioned in this earlier article. Disney's just another company- and they are proving it.

Truckload by Truckload

Here's a real cel phone photo, sent by a friend yesterday as she was driving to work. Along with it came this reminder- so good for us all:
"From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another." John 1:16

God is so good to us- not just by sending Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for our sins, but also by blessing us as we seek and follow Him!

September 9, 2010

Quick Links: Disney Park Countdown

For those of you interested, here is a list of quick links to my personal Disney Park Countdown articles:
  1. Disneyland (Coming Soon!)
  2. Epcot
  3. Disneyland Paris
  4. Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World
  5. Disney California Adventure
  6. Disney's Hollywood Studios
  7. Disney's Animal Kingdom
  8. Walt Disney Studios Paris
Each article includes photos and commentary, part history and part trip report. Of course, this is just my personal countdown, and I haven't been to the Disney parks in Asia- yet. But one day, Tokyo Disney Sea here I come...

There are well over 800 articles on my blog, so if a particular park is a favorite or a curiosity, do a search or just browse through it. (My cataloguing of articles hasn't always been great, and I am constantly finding I've missed tagging some.) I can guarantee you that you will find articles, Imagineering concept art, and recent news about your favorites. Enjoy- and stay tuned for the Disneyland Park #1 article on the countdown. Thanks for reading!

September 7, 2010

Disney Park Countdown #2 - Epcot

Were this 1989, this would be my number one ranked Disney park. However, it is almost two and a half decades later, and Epcot is no longer what it was at opening. Yet, I still love the place, and when I long for a trip to Walt Disney World, Epcot is the reason why!

The creators of EPCOT Center had a vision and plans for explaining how we can work together to better human life and enhance community. In my opinion, EPCOT Center most displays Walt Disney's heart for the American people and his desire to improve their lives. It was more than a money making project; it was a true labor of love. Even the entrance music created an atmosphere of hope and discovery.

Changes in recent years signify the transition from a noble and visionary company to one that seems solely profit minded, especially where the parks are concerned. The cynic in me says this grand hope for improving the future has given way to the goal of extracting as much cash from each person possible. The transition from informing and helping people to sheer profitability lends itself to a challenging thought: Has the Walt Disney Company become more interested in taking advantage of people than remembering they are also part of the community of people?

Outright dazzled by my first visit in 1983! Taking the monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center to the park near closing time created an excitement in me I will never forget. Made it hard to sleep that night! We spend a minimum of two full days at Epcot whenever we have an extended vacation at Walt Disney World. On shorter trips, this is the one park we never miss, but I have passed up visiting the Magic Kingdom and the Studios before, (and next trip, probably Animal Kingdom.)

Recent changes to World Showcase have downplayed the dignity of the nations represented. The beautiful but much shorter than originally planned El Rio del Tiempo was replaced by the character adventure Gran Fiesta Tour, stripping the Mexico attraction of its charm and mystery and rich culture. In it's place, just another living advertisement for Disney characters and films. This makes me sad, as to me, El Rio always captured the beauty and essence of World Showcase. To sit by the indoor lagoon, eat Queso Fundido, have a sublime margarita, and follow it with a voyage into Aztec and Maya history- that was what set EPCOT Center apart from any other Disney world. Now, the differences between it and the Magic Kingdom are sliding away before my eyes.

There is still much beauty and charm to be found in World Showcase, with beautiful gardens and hidden places to explore. A stroll through the countries after the official closing time makes for a truly magical way to end the evening. Walking out from a showing of Impressions of France right into the alleys of a recreated Monmarte, ah! Even without a stop at the bakery, just for a moment I could easily fool myself into thinking I was there.

Despite its charms, there is a definite need for well done refreshing of attractions and additions of new ones- and without characters. Much like California Adventure 1.0, this Worlds Fair portion of Epcot relies too heavily on films while missing a healthy balance of other types of attractions.

There is also minimal kinetic energy. Aside from the boats transversing World Showcase Lagoon, all that moves are the tourists. The canals of Venice need their gondolas. I miss the double deck bus rides that used to recall those of London and Victoria. Rickshaw rides through China would add atmosphere, even a camel in Morocco, but nothing is happening in the realm of transportation. The lack of movement does give this side of the park a tranquility that is absent in the other properties, but it also lends a certain "deadness" when crowds are very low. (See this article for photos from my trip a few years ago in August. Any city morgue was more lively!)

Future World has its own strengths and weaknesses both in design and in the attractions. In design, Epcot's Future World's dated architecture mirrors the concrete world of Disneyland's Tomorrowland. It's time for something new. Innoventions and the surrounding area offends the worst in this aspect, but it is the tombstone like entrance to the park that is the obvious sign the park is losing its focus. Obviously, the historically tinged and somewhat accurate buildings of World Showcase seem charming by contrast, and that side of the park has aged better because of it.

Attractions in Future World now run the gamut of good to bad, with Ellen's Energy Adventure running a close second to the more than awful Imagination complex. In Epcot's early years, there were many Audio-Animatronic adventures to be found in Future World. I loved a ride through the World of Motion and its futuristic cityscape ending. Horizons was a must- the large theater and mesmerising music drew me in. Yes, the robotics became stiff and dated and needed to be changed, but the attraction was a gem in a park of many. Who could resist Spaceship Earth? Not me- and a ride into the sphere was a must-do both at the beginning and the end of the day.

These marvelous pavilions were designed for the entire family, and they were balanced out by smaller exhibits that invited guests to linger and discover what was happening in the worlds of transportation, energy, and communication. Now, Future World has its share of thrill rides but less of a sense of awe and wonder. The newer attractions have created some new fans and lost others. I'm not a fan of Mission:Space, but I love Test Track. The problem is these attractions are not friendly for older guests nor are there engaging smaller exhibits for those of us not of the gaming generation.

On the plus end, the recent changes to The Land have been an overall positive update, not as much with The Seas, although I really enjoy both the Nemo themed dark ride and absolutely love Turtle Talk with Crush. Unfortunately, the actual marine life is now secondary to the character related experiences.

Restaurants used to be top notch across the board, full of authentic dishes not necessarily geared toward American tastes. The Disney Dining Plan has turned a meal at World Showcase into something very difficult, stealing the spontaneity and joy of the touring process. The meals themselves have become ordinary in too many circumstances. It is well known that the chefs at the beautiful San Angel Restaurante have turned its food into something pedestrian. The once stellar Chefs de France is now good but not terrific. Eating in China and Japan is now for the atmosphere versus the meal. Only Canada's Le Cellier seems to be the delight it once was. 

Lastly, why is the United States only represented by hamburgers and hot dogs? Our country is filled with culinary delights from many regions, with tastes specifically ours. In Future World, dining is a wash. The Land Grille Room was much better in its earlier incarnation, The Good Turn, and it was a family tradition to start our Epcot day there for breakfast, following by a boat ride through the growing gardens.

Shopping is pretty fun here, however, with a wide variety of country specific merchandise and even theme park specific items for purchase. This includes some great retro stuff. That creates a mixed reaction in me, as it reminds me of the greatness of EPCOT Center versus Epcot.

With no question, this park has the widest range of engaging entertainment. International performers are scattered throughout World Showcase, adding to the festive atmosphere. The evening spectacular Illuminations remains the definitive Disney nighttime show. Every performance brings a tear to my eye as I see each country lit up as part of the show.

With its abundance of charms but challenging deficiencies, Epcot Center is still a pretty great place to spend the day- but it helps immensely if you only know it from its current form. When compared to its past, it is a fairly pale shadow of its former greatness.

(Gee, I may need to begin a whole series of articles on this park- similar to my True Life Adventure on Animal Kingdom... but in the meantime, search my blog for dozens of Epcot related articles and rare concept art.)
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

September 6, 2010

New Disneyland Resort Website

Debuting today, a new Disneyland Resort website. Includes an all new layout for both Disneyland and California Adventure, Downtown Disney and more. Go here.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Goodbye Maliboomer!

California Adventure's Maliboomer closes after today as its last day of operation.

The Maliboomer was a glaring first sign that DCA was a dud to the outside world. It's Six Flags and Knott's Berry Farm style evident for all to see. Guests pondering to spend their bucks there or at Disneyland may have seen it from the parking area before coming to the conclusion very quickly that Walt's original park was a better value, lovingly created, and just much higher quality. This weekend also marked the closing of Pizza Oom Mow Mow, the S.S. rustworthy, Bountiful Valley Farmer’s Market, and more. Adios, Maliboomer and all the other now-defunct remnants of DCA 1.0- I will not miss you!

Note: Tomorrow, I'll post my article on the Disney Park that earns the Number 2 position in the Countdown. See you then!

September 5, 2010

Disney's Dole Whip Recipe

This recipe for Disneyland's and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Dole Whip treat sounds right on the money. Go here to get it. Time to try it out!

September 4, 2010

Coming Attractions: Disney Park Countdown Continues

Tuesday morning, I'll publish an article on my Number 2 Disney park. The entire countdown starts here. See you then!

September 3, 2010

Denver Dining: Kaos Pizza

Sometimes it takes a newbie living in the area to point out something wonderful and new. Such is the case with my discovery of the incredibly good Kaos Pizza (303-733-5267). My nephew and friend moved to the area seven months ago, and he stumbled on this place. In all my years- and memory!- I have yet to taste a pizza so delicious. (It's just a generic photo, by the way.) The patio is stunning, matching the excellent flavors of the pies. Check it out next time you are in the Mile High City. (If Epcot's new Via Napoli is even a portion as good, that would be enough for me.)

September 1, 2010

Odds and Ends

Odds and Ends:
  • Still working on my #2 Disney Parks Countdown article- it's either Disneyland or Epcot...
  • Hitting the road to meet my youngest daughter's future in-laws
  • Toy Story Playland at Walt Disney Studios Paris has yet to impress me- and I've seen a bunch of the on-line video and photographs
  • Cannot wait to ride the Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain now with stereophonic sound
  • Why do we have to wait until January for construction to begin on Buena Vista Street at California Adventure?
  • Vanessa Williams' The Real Thing album is absolutely terrific!
  • More to come- stay posted!