December 31, 2011

Another New Years!

Happy New Year Everyone!

May God bless you in 2012, bringing you deep joy regardless of what the next year brings.

Thanks for being loyal readers and friends!

December 29, 2011

Family, Friends or Foes

Mom and Daughter, friends all the more! This photo from our recent vacation remind me what a gift when family are among those closest to us. Can you say that about your family? Why or why not? And what can you do this new year to strengthen the ties or restore the relationship? Worth considering!

December 24, 2011

Be Blessed This Christmas

It's time to put aside all the trimming of Christmas- you know, the last minute shopping, the busyness, the stress- and time to stop and focus on Jesus Christ, the hope of man come to earth in the form of a child.

Stop and seek Him. If you know and love Him, stop and thank God for the blessings in your life. Even under the most stressful curcumstances, He is present and offering you His Joy.

If you do not know Jesus Christ as Lord of creation and Savior from your sins, now is the time to invite Him to take over- and replace your stressed out life with peace and joy that only He can offer. God Himself designed things to work this way: that only through the confession of our sin against God and turning to Jesus will we ever find freedom, forgiveness, and new life for this earth and for eternity. Be blessed and know His love! Merry Christmas!

December 22, 2011

Christmas Changes and Challenges

"Transitions! Difficult? Yes, but it’s what God is constantly doing in our lives. He is all about transitions. The only things that are constant are God and change. We see it throughout ‘HIStory’. God is continually taking his people out of, into, or through transitions for his own glory and purpose. Remembering the lives of Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Elijah, Paul and many others we see that God never really left these men in their comfort-zone for very long. Their lives reflect the fact that God is always orchestrating our lives, our ministry, and our families for what is coming upstream. During these times we can often feel confused, fearful, and sometimes rebellious. We want clarity, but we must let go of clarity... and trust.

Two thousand years ago, God orchestrated the greatest transition of all time. Jesus entered the world, became flesh, lived and died for us so we might have a relationship with Him. This transition changed history and the world forever.

“What is going on here?” “This can’t be!” “What are we going to do now?” “How will I tell my family and friends?” How can God do this, at a time like this?” “Things were going so good!” “Now what are we going to do?” “Just look at what is happening here, it can’t be good!” “Why doesn’t God do_____?”

Haven’t we heard ourselves say these things? And yet we see that God is the Faithful One who will provide, and give us vision and strength for the near thing, even when the distant is clouded. Now, after 10 years in overseas missions, we find ourselves in this season of our lives, waiting on the Lord, again letting go of the need for clarity and remembering His faithfulness in all the times of uncertainty in the past.

Last month we attended the National Missionary Convention in Atlanta, and interestingly, the pre-conference topic was ‘transitions’. It was very enlightening and encouraging to be reminded, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.” The term wait has the meaning of ‘twist’. We must twist ourselves around the Lord, and take on His character and be strengthened.

Let us encourage you if you are going through any kind of transition. Jesus came into this world to change EVERYTHING, and because of His willingness to be changed, to enter human flesh and dwell among us, we have the power to be changed and endure change.

“We don’t get to pick the assignment or the suffering that we can endure, we can only pick our attitude” Tim Dogett on ‘Missionary Transitions’ "

A note to me from friends who remain anonymous due to the nature of their work...
Merry Christmas from my family to yours!

December 20, 2011

Why Christmas Beats Halloween at Disneyland

Sure, it is just an overlay of an attraction and one of many offerings at Disneyland in California over Christmas- but what a terrific overlay it is! It's a Small World Holiday charms even the Scrooges in the crowd with its cheerful blend of Christmas tunes and decor. The exterior of the classic all-white building stuns the viewers with its thousands of colored lights, and the crowds begin running into the queue the moment the sun begins to set. It truly is magical- and nothing offered at the park for Halloween even comes close.
(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 19, 2011

Disney's Burbank Backlot

Decades before Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland were even a glimmer in the eye of forward thinking or greedy corporate executives, the Disney Backlot project in Burbank was quickly moving from concept to reality. The beautiful piece of concept art shows what could have been: shops, restaurants, etc. Think of Anaheim's Downtown Disney with a few small scale attractions through in for good measure.

The style would have been a combination of the current Grove shopping center found by the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles with hints of classic American nostalgia and a bit of riverboat flair like the old Empress Lilly at Walt Disney World. Right in the middle of Burbank. It would be a "lifestyle center" long before the concept was ever coined. Throw in the Disney craft of marketing and showmanship, and Disney's Burbank Backlot had the potential to be a smash.

Cold feet, city politics, and too many other projects on the boards ended up being the kiss of death for the idea, much to the disappointment of Disney fandom. It would have been a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon, adding a little class to the area as well as being a great incentive to remind folks to visit a full fledged Disney resort.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 15, 2011

Frontierland- When the West Was Simply Wild

Love these old souvenir books! This great little map is from my 1957 Disneyland guide. Doesn't this Frontierland look like Davy Crockett's (or wannabe Davy Crockett's) dream? It sure was mine! My mind races back to others times and places just looking at it, and my imagination starts to work in full color. I know I wasn't alone in this bit of play. The old The Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland and its Rainbow Caverns certainly had its impact on John Lasseter and the design of Carsland's Radiator Springs Racers.

One aspect I really enjoyed about the younger years of the park is that Disney allowed you to create your own adventures. Sure, stories were told- and often times they were of a company film- but especially in Frontierland, we were encouraged to exercise our own imagination a bit. There we could explore caves, an old fort, the Indian village, or even an entire western landscape by mule or train. Paddling a canoe or taking a cruise on an old steam wheeler took us places where we didn't know what lay ahead. Great fun!

There was something very hands on about the place, be it shooting rifles, searching for the perfect coonskin hat, or hanging on to the ropes while crossing those pesky barrel and suspension bridges of Tom Sawyer Island. Nowadays, hands on tends to mean "hands on the controller" as Toy Story Midway Mania and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin take prominence at the Disney parks. Sure, those rides are fun, and the parks need this kind of variety, but the simple pleasures of simpler times also have their place. Yet, these kind of smaller attractions are no longer built. With their absence, we are also missing a part of homespun Americana and the opportunity to embrace our own imagination.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 12, 2011

Tales from Rwanda: A Cow in My Classroom

Editor's Note: A good friend of mine travels to Africa regularly as part of a mercy team to provide care and schooling for the children of Rwanda. Below is the first of several notes from her adventures. It's not Disney's Animal Kingdom but the real thing. Enjoy!

Kamate’s Primary School, started just two years ago, consists of two rooms made out of mud bricks, a tin roof, and trimmed tree branches of varying sizes for seats. The windows and doors allow complete access to the natural elements; there is no glass in the window openings and no actual doors to keep out the wind and debris.

Currently it consists of four primary grades – P1, P2, P3 and P4 - as well as pre-K and Kindergarten and its 500 students range in age from four years old to mid-teens. Yes, that’s right – 500 students, which means they attend half days. P3 and P4 hold their classes in the school building. The other grades meet under their assigned trees.

Sydney and I knew that we would be teaching English at Kamate, but we didn’t really know what that meant. We thought we might team teach and brought a number of teaching materials and other supplies with us. However, God had other plans. I ended up solo teaching - mostly P3 and P4 - the better part of the school day. However, one morning I was assigned to P2.

I was bent over writing the lesson on the blackboard, when a student made a noise and I heard something being thrown off to my right. At that point I looked up and immediately saw a cow on my left, my very near left, less than two feet away- and then not just one cow, but several others just behind the tree that held up the blackboard. These are not your ordinary mild Jersey cows, but Watusis, which have long, curved horns. To buy time and keep my composure I said, “How nice! They want to learn, too!” It was just then that the herdsman made his appearance and drove his cows away. I continued on with my lesson.

I absolutely loved teaching the Kamate students. For me it was one of the highlights of not only the 2011 trip but of all three times I have been in Rwanda. But a cow in my classroom! Who would have thought it! That’s real life in Kamate, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I sure look forward to teaching there again.

December 10, 2011

Captain America Versus Jack Sparrow

Top of my DVD wish list? Captain America!
Yes, the Chris Evans / Hugo Weaving blockbuster beats out Johnny Depp and Jack Sparrow's 4th journey with the Pirates of the Caribbean. Kudos to Marvel for giving us a real hero we can cheer for- one with a heart of self-sacrifice, boldness, and a determination to fight evil versus embracing it. Not something we see everyday where the lines get blurred, and the end justifies the means.

December 8, 2011

From Disneyland to the Top of the Pop Charts

Here's an old photo I really like. Richard Carpenter and his friend and songwriting partner John Bettis at Disneyland's Coke Corner. Long ago and oh so far away, years before he and sister Karen Carpenter started Carpenters and their reign at the top of the Billboard charts in the 1970's, Richard and John Bettis played on Main Street U.S.A.

With a little help from Photoshop!

Says John Bettis in a 2011 interview with Press Telegram

"We were 20 years old, maybe, and full of ourselves," Bettis said. 
"Disneyland had all these rules, you had to act a certain way, and Richard and I broke all the rules. When we were supposed to be playing `Ain't She Sweet,' we were playing `Penny Lane' and `Light My Fire.' So they rightfully, and deservedly, fired us."

No doubt according to Richard that their boss, Vic Guder, was their inspiration for the song, Mr. Guder, from the Close to You album. Nonetheless, Richard and John would go on to write some classics that would be among the Carps great hits: Top of the World, Yesterday Once More, Only Yesterday, I Need to Be in Love, and the opus Goodbye to Love. So, here's to getting the boot at Disneyland. It can open to doors to a great career!

December 6, 2011

A San Antonio Christmas at the River Walk

Yes, it is absolutely true. The River Walk in San Antonio is stunning on a Christmas evening. The sounds celebrating the season fill the air with a Mariachi twist. Restaurants pump out the delightful scents of Mexican treats, children and their parents are caught laughing while they wait for a cruise on the river, and everyone is having a good time. In a world where family is increasingly devalued, San Antonio is one place where celebrating takes on a warm heritage all its own.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

December 2, 2011

From Tower of Terror to Soarin' Over California

In all the deserved excitement involving the billion dollar extreme makeover of Disney's California Adventure, there's still this small little area for kids filled with the charm of old school Disneyland circa 1955. Critics will argue, but Flik's Fun Fair is chock full of great visuals, rich theming, and kid friendly attractions very similar to what was found in Fantasyland at opening. Sure, a nicely themed dark ride would have made the area complete. It's certainly not Radiator Springs Racers or even Ariel's Undersea Adventure, but Flik's is a nice place to spend an hour. This Pixar pleasure world for little ones is especially enchanting in the evening and well worth your time as you stroll from The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to Soarin' Over California.

December 1, 2011

A New Species of Theme Park Posterized

Oh, the promise! Oh, the potential!

When Disney's fourth Florida theme park debuted, this beautiful poster of Disney's Animal Kingdom was found for sale in the shops of Safari Village. Thanks to a friend, this image was sent to me, in appreciation for my extensive series on the creation and evolution of the park.

Imagineer Joe Rohde's vision for this gorgeous place could be seen here in its condensed glory, but it was only a fractional picture of what was originally imagined. True, Beastly Kingdom would never appear, but in its place came the thrills of Expedition Everest and the soon to come controversial Pandora land from the film Avatar. All this proves once again, that in the Disney universe, the winning concepts that succeed from blue sky ideas to concrete and steel reality are only proving the survival of the fittest.

(For those that are interested, I look at the park from its roots to its future in a six part series that begins here.)

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 28, 2011

Relaxing Lake Buena Vista

Here's a real find! It's not too often that we see concept art for Walt Disney World's own real town of Lake Buena Vista. Long before the city of Celebration, the small community of Lake Buena Vista remained an enjoyable respite from the crowds. During the planning stages for Walt's east coast spectacular, the Imagineers were hard at work defining green spaces, pedestrian areas, hotels, and backstage facilities. Far more than just the Magic Kingdom theme park!And here's a small glimpse of their work.

Personally, this image conjures up the Walt Disney World of old. In addition to the "East Coast Disneyland", there were quiet spaces for rest and relaxation far from the folks running from one attraction to the next. A week in Florida there meant more time to enjoy the extensive recreational facilities and the shops and restaurants. I have sweet memories of chilled Strawberry Soup and the quiet garden shop at the Village.

As much as I love Epcot and enjoy the newer parks and water parks, there was a sweet simplicity then. It was easy to be anywhere at Walt Disney World and think you were in the middle of an entirely different one. Now, with the roadways covering almost every area of the property, busses perpetually transporting guests to each corner, and four world class theme parks to explore, it is hard to remember how it was at the beginning. Time marches on.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 25, 2011

All the Earth Shall Worship

This photograph gives me chills! Here is a worship service in Asia, where people are celebrating the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Certainly, from the photo, it is easy to tell that these folks were probably not raised as believers but probably in another faith. What a beautiful picture of what heaven will be like! People from all over the earth, from all generations, praising His Name forever!

November 24, 2011

Thankful Heart

Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of the Insights and Sounds blog! It's been a wonderful journey together, and I am so very grateful for your readership.

Today, we'll be giving thanks to God Almighty before our dinner. And I pray each of you would have a day filled with peace, joy, and love, regardless of your belief system...

November 23, 2011

Walt Disney World Aerial Tour

Thanks to those guys over at WDWFanBoys , there is an absolutely stunning collection of aerial photos to be found. More of the Walt Disney World resort than I have seen in awhile. If you are thinking these are just another set with a focus on the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland Forest, you'd be partly right. There's Epcot, Animal Kingdom (and the infamous back side of Exepdition Everest), and Disney's Hollywood Studios as well. Go here for a look. So worth your time!

November 22, 2011

Notable and Quotable: Tim Tebow

"If you're married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say to your wife 'I love her' the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and every opportunity?

"And that's how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ is that it is the most important thing in my life. So any time I get an opportunity to tell him that I love him or given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I'm gonna take that opportunity. And so I look at it as a relationship that I have with him that I want to give him the honor and glory anytime I have the opportunity. And then right after I give him the honor and glory, I always try to give my teammates the honor and glory."

Tim Tebow on ESPN, in response to Jake Plummer

I say, right on, Tim! Right on!

November 18, 2011

Wizard of Oz Meets Tomorrowland

Is this Tomorrowland? Is it really?

This piece of Imagineering art from an unknown Disney artist, is a proposed entrance and look for the park's first version of Tomorrowland. Quite a difference from what was first seen in Disneyland! Is it just me or does it seem as if the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz was the inspiration here?

Of course, many versions of this area of the park have now been realized with, hopefully, another to come one day. Tony Baxter and company gave it it's best shot in 1998, but we all know how cut budgets and shortsightedness killed the Rocket Rods, creating one of the biggest disappointments in recent years.

Perhaps Tron's light cycles will one day race around the area. Might take the work of some real Imagineering wizards.

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company)

November 16, 2011

Bad Show Bill Maher

Thanks, Bill Maher, for adding more ugliness to the world. Your recent comment, "The Republican Party doesn't care about knowledge" only adds additional division and less room for fair discussion in this election season. It happens on both sides of the political arena, but you have only added to dividing the country instead of causing it citizens to look intelligently at all sides of the candidates and issues. Certainly ironic.

November 15, 2011

Beautiful Blooms

While visiting Mission San Juan Capistrano with my wife, mother-in-law, and my youngest daughter and her husband, we were surrounded by beauty. My daughter is quite the sharp photographer, and quickly assessed the views, snapping this shot almost as an afterthought. For something taken so quickly, I found it to be simply beautiful. A nice momento of a perfect Southern California day!

(Photograph copyright Lauren Knuth.)

November 14, 2011

Timberlake Shows His Patriotism

One time Disney Mousketeer Justin Timberlake showed a heart of patriotism and a large dose of class by showing up to the 236 Marine Corps Birthday Ball over the weekend. While some in Hollywood find it easy to bash those in the military who are defending the liberties they enjoy, Timberlake expressed heartfelt appreciation for the men and women who serve the country. USA Today captures it all in this article. Class act, Mr. Timberlake. Great use of those 4 Minutes...

November 13, 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas with Amy and Vince

Amy Grant and hubby Vince Gill take their Christmas show on the road. The one time Disney's World of Color songstress will warp her beautiful, warm vocals around songs celebrating this Holy season. Equally talented Vince Gill will bring his gorgeous voice to accompany his wife and sings some leads from his own Christmas albums. 

This is the Christmas tour I was waiting for! Unfortunately, Denver is not on the couple's list this year. Hope I wasn't too naughty this year- and maybe they will reconsider and come out west.

November 12, 2011

Why Christmas Beats Halloween at Disneyland Paris

Take the most beautiful Disney park castle ever, sprinkle in some Christmas magic, and what do you get? Disneyland Paris' beautiful Chateau decked out for the season! And this is just the beginning. I've been to the park at Halloween, and it is cute, but oh, to see it at Christmas! Maybe one year...

(Photograph copyright the Walt Disney Company.)

November 11, 2011

One by One by One by One

For the last several years, there's a very popular book out called The Tipping Point by author Malcolm Gladwell. The basic premise is quite intriguing, as it is a research project of sorts on how trends are started, viruses are spread, etc. The byline reads, "How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference". Truer words could not be spoken. Gladwell gives many examples of how the choices of one person can make an impact.

Just take an objective look at the early criticisms of Disney's California Adventure when it opened in 2001. Instead of rehashing such well known- and correct- observations about the park, the reality was longtime Disney park fans knew an inferior product when they saw it. It wasn't supposed to be Disneyland, but it wasn't a quality product either. There was a breach of trust and integrity in place of honor and honesty to this next generation park.

Conversely, when it comes to the remake of California Adventure, each new and individual park project that is done with excellence from start to finish has been met with enthusiastic response and the appropriate rewards it brings. World of Color has brought in the masses, and the soon to be finished The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure, Buena Vista Street, and Radiator Springs Racers will no doubt do the same. Excellence is recognized and rewarded.

Walt Disney seemed to understand this fact inherently. His earliest creations may not have been the blockbusters he would later experience, but he never skimped on quality. Oswald was not Mickey Mouse, but he was not designed with any less heart or elegance. Disneyland begat Walt Disney World, and under the leadership of his brother, the complex in Florida continued on with the company's tradition of excellence one project, one decision at a time. The public knew they could count on Walt and his company to produce any entertainment product and that it would be available at a fair price. His reputation (and that of his family and company) was always at stake, and Walt did not underestimate the potential of his core audience.

You are no different than Walt Disney. There is only a difference in the individual situation, unique skills, and personal contacts. But the same opportunity to live with integrity and excellence is available to us. Think about what is important to you and live for that. If you stumble around because your decisions lead you astray, you can always start over, rebuilding your life and reputation one decision at a time. It is akin to building good habits and breaking ones you hate. One by one by one by one, we can and do make a difference. One person making one deicision to do right multiplies itself.

Mahatma Gandi's famous quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world" is no less significant because it is well known. Now, I am not a follower of the Hindu faith. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, God himself made flesh who came to the earth to die for the sins of all mankind and rose from death to prove His power over Hell. His disciples, those who walked this earth with him, believed in him and gave up their lives for him, turned the world upside down. Their amazing message is timeless and revolutionary.

Their choice to follow Jesus Christ resulted in following their convictions- and one by one by one, as word spread, individuals exchanged broken lives for freedom and hope in him. Christianity became a worldwide faith because of the One who first acted in obedience and in integrity- and then spread one by one because of the power He gave his followers as they did his work and spoke the truth about Jesus. It continues to live to this day, be it in postmodern America, secular Europe, or in Third World countries where the good works of man accompany the Good News of Jesus. Sure, it unfortunately doesn't always look like it did in the early days- and please do not get me started on that topic- but the message and character of Christ remains a life changing one to this day.

But back to you, back to me. Will you be the one, the one who chooses to live with integrity instead of taking the short way out? Will you be the one who is the example of living honestly for the common good when others look out only for themselves? Will you be the one who chooses to live knowing your decisions will impact many people as well as impact your reputation? As for me, I am trying. This is my heart: to live a life that honors my God and reveals who He is as others watch me. Sure, I do and will fall flat on my face at times. But as I humbly come to him, by his power, I can start over again one decision at a time. One by one by one.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 8, 2011

Why Christmas Beats Halloween at the Disney Parks

Proof Number 1: Just look at the decorations! Nothing in orange and black can compare to the beauty of the icicles on the castles at the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland parks. There's more to come, so keep watch as I highlight other reasons Christmas reigns supreme over Halloween each and every year!

(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 3, 2011

Michael's Sad Saga Continues

The sad, sad saga of Michael Jackson continues on. Can it get any more bizarre for a man responsible for such inspired music that defined a decade or so? Or more depressing for a guy who seemed to have it all but was overtaken by his inner demons? A strange tale made all the more blue by the children he left behind.

November 2, 2011

First Time Magic at the Disneyland Resort

Disneyland and California Adventure in one day. Something I would not normally try to accomplish- especially when taking a first timer to Disneyland as well as taking my wife for her first ever visit to California Adventure. That said, it was the second week of October after all, the crowds were supposed to be light, and everyone wanted to see World of Color. So, we took our chances... and it paid off handsomely.

Our plan was to start early in the day and arrive at the park gates right before opening. Unfortunately, a dead battery delayed the plan, so we showed up almost one hour after Disneyland opened it gates. No matter, this was where purchasing our tickets the night before helped out. We were still able to park in the outdoor and lowest lot, right next to Downtown Disney. Just in time for the less than spectacular scenery during the short tram ride.

Off to a good start as Indiana Jones Adventure was a walk-on. But without many effects working. Then in fast order, it was on to the Haunted Mansion Holiday and Splash Mountain. Again, no line to speak of. Nice. Seeing the park this empty gave everyone a chance to take in the beauty of the landscapes around us. The Mark Twain Steamboat slowly made its first journey, the rafts to Tom Sawyer's Island did the same, but the Columbia Sailing Ship stayed in the dock.

In spite of the benefits, I am ready to visit the Disneyland Resort at another time of the year. The last three visits have been in October, and although the crowds really are lighter, I would like to see the original version Haunted Mansion as well as the park without its Halloween decorations. Jack Skellington is fun, but the creepier standard version is still the better of the two.

Wandering through New Orleans Square was the moment our newbie began to discover the art of Disney theme parks. He loved the detail and the fact you could walk into the lands and not just observe them as merely set dressings to the attractions. It was his favorite area. He does have good taste! Having Pirates closed only whetted his appetite for another visit at another time.

A quick snack in Critter Country yielded a giant cookie to beat all cookies- white chocolate chunks, butterscotch chips and more- all in one huge, hand sized shape. A perfect energy booster while we cruised over to Star Tours, our first real sized line of the day.

Even though I'm not a big Star Wars fan, my son in law is, so it was fun to watch him relish all the queue details and the journey itself. I expected the 3D to feel clunky, but it didn't, and I was very happy to enter the Pod Racer competition. Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy was next, and again, I'm ready for the original. Traditional spook houses are not my thing, so I much prefer the timeless storyline of the attraction the way it debuted. Tomorrowland has not aged well. Enough said.

We strolled into Fantasyland before heading into California Adventure. For an newbie, we expected our first timer to really be wowed by all the technology and special effects of the big rides. But, in a show of strength and charm for the original seventeen attractions to be found at Disneyland's opening, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was a huge hit. The detailed landscaping in Fantasyland was stunning, only adding to the charm of the courtyard by all the dark rides. We couldn't get into the others without a long wait, but he found Toad's to be worth the ten minute wait. I'm always charmed by Small World, but my son in law was unimpressed by our happiest cruise, as his grandmother made him sleep in a room filled with porcelain dolls whenever he visited her. To him, the attraction was more horror filled than the Mansion. 

A quick stroll through Toon Town, and we were on our way to the construction zone named California Adventure.

It was almost time for our Soarin' Over California Fastpass, so we walked next door, deciding to stop at Taste Pilots for some lunch. The maze of walls is quite the sight. It ends in a lackluster area for now, but once all the work is complete, I think Buena Vista Street will be beautiful and make a great first impression. What was the original area called? Sun something or other? ;)

Aside from a few places in Disneyland, the food at California Adventure is just so much better! The Wild Bleu Burger continues to be a favorite. Perfection on a plate! Everyone enjoyed their lunch and the sun, which was now in full bloom. We then jumped into our line for my favorite attraction here. I never tire of the technology that makes Soarin' the smash it is, but the film does look pretty dated. Time for digital. But you just gotta love the soundtrack!

The next ride of the day was something I just couldn't wait for. It's not very often you get to ride a new Disney attraction for the very first time. That said, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure was a serious disappointment. 

This was the ride I had to see, and it is a movie I absolutely love. (Who cannot love a movie about a father who lays down his life for his child?) The attraction, however, was a solid "D" Ticket and certainly not the "E" smash I had hoped it would be. (Nor is it fair to call it a "C" dark ride, either!) The Imagineers seemed either strapped for cash and space or were short on inspiration. The end result was a short little dark ride somewhere between Peter Pan's Flight and the Haunted Mansion.The building itself is pretty, but it has too much stucco and not enough detail either inside or out. I did like the seashell floor of the queue and the sea urchin finials. Once on the ride vehicle, the beginning of the attraction was pretty encouraging. Scuttle makes an appropriate storyteller, and the going underwater effects were quite effective. Seeing Ariel and her treasures delighted me, but the "Under the Sea" showstopping scene just stopped significantly short of greatness- like most of California Adventure 1.0.

What was missing? More of everything- more sea life, more lighting detail, more marine vegetation, more underwater effects, more wow factor. Just more of everything to make it spectacular. The ride was fun, but it was just slightly more than passable. This central scene should have been filled to the max with creatures singing along and detail piled upon detail, making the ride a definitive must do again to see it all. (It's part of makes me return to It's a Small World over and over after all these years.)

Ursula's lair was extremely well done, and she moved and spoke just like the wickedness that she is. My favorite Disney villain absolutely stole the show! Overall, though, something was amiss throughout the journey. As we traveled into "Kiss the Girl", I knew what it was that kept me underwhelmed- we were just too close to the scenes, they were much too small, and they went by much too fast. There was no grandeur of sets as found in Pirates of the Caribbean or the graveyard in the Haunted Mansion. No sense of endlessness that the ocean has. Even Madame Leota had a larger, more expansive, room in which to enact her evil compared to Ursula. And the Little Mermaid ride was all the worse for it. Making use of multiple levels would have given more space to tell a complete story instead of an abridged version. The closing farewell was nice, but again, cramped, and it was made all the more obvious when the clam shells stopped more than once down the very short corridor that revealed the outside world long before it should have.

Mermaid isn't a must see for return rides on the same day- except for us hardcore Disney Geeks. It is not the centerpiece attraction of the revitalized Paradise Pier that it should have been. The ride is certainly not a failure; it just feels incomplete. Kudos, however, to the Disney Imagineers for Sebastian and Scuttle. They move so well! (But why didn't Flounder have some speaking role? He's my favorite of the three supporting characters.)

Exiting Mermaid, we moved through Paradise Pier and the renovated area surrounding Goofy's Sky School. It's a vast improvement over the horrible design of its predecessor, but let me say it straight up: Looking across the bay from Mermaid, I just hate Paradise Pier. Hate it. Hate it. The "wooden" supports and height of California Screamin' are just a gaudy, tangled mess, making the area seem extremely cheap, colorless, and heartless. Have a lot of love for the ride experience, but not the look of it. There is a reason Disney coasters are designed not to look like one. I know we're stuck with the Pier, but refreshed area or not, it ranks as one of the largest aesthetic failures in Disney park history. And if I can be very snarky here, the "lush park"replacing the Maliboomer isn't.

Back to basics. Grizzly Rapids was another hit. My wife had not been to California Adventure ever prior to this first visit, but having seen all the Florida parks and the gorgeous Disneyland Paris, her standards are high. She loved the wilderness representation, but found the park "just ok". It was better than she thought it would be, she but couldn't imagine it without the additions since it first opened. My son-in-law summed it up best by saying, "It's fun, but you can tell they just didn't try as hard here as they did with Disneyland". I found this to be quite an astute observation from a Disney virgin! We headed to the Blue Sky Cellar before going back across the way. The plans for Cars Land and Buena Vista Street convinced everyone they would return one day. We all agreed Radiator Springs Racers will be a well deserved smash.

The construction zones made exiting the park a challenge. The new entrance is quite attractive, but then, I have always liked the Pan Pacific gates of the Disney-MGM/ Hollywood Studios. With Carsland and Radiator Springs Racers on its way along with Buena Vista Street, the original pieces of the park are even more exposed for the lusterless spaces they are. Grizzly Peak Recreation Area aside. Even Condor Flats seemed, well, flat. (And let's just get rid of ElecTRONica at the Backlot. It ruins what little style there is to the area.)

Heading back to over Disneyland, we mixed up the attraction roster and visited the Jungle Cruise, Tarzan's Treehouse, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and the winner of the day for our first timer: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Yes, Tony Baxter's masterpiece of an attraction was his favorite of all he experienced. It is a fun ride for all ages. It's just right in so many ways: great detail, thrilling but not terrifying, and most of all, laugh inducing- just what Disneyland is all about! It's our family's favorite thrill for good reasons. Sure, Pirates is awesome (although closed for this visit), but Thunder Mountain is deserving of the title of best coaster in either park. Multiple rides were in order, and it was the only attraction we rode more than once. The last seats make for a terrific ride.

Before heading back to the newer park for dinner and World of Color, we stopped to see Mr. Lincoln. Another wonderful old school attraction we love, as we are a very patriotic family, proud of America and the old fashioned values that made us great. After a quick stop at the Disney Gallery to buy a Kevin Kidney/Jody Daily designed Mad Tea Party tea cup, the sun was beginning its descent, making Main Street and the stroll to it from the rest of the park, especially lovely. Disneyland's charm takes on a whole new feel at dusk, and in this sense, there is no other park that exudes the spirit of the man himself. Always leaves me with a small lump in my throat.

Crossing back over, the Wharf was our destination as some wanted Chinese and some Mexican for a quick bite. Again, the food is great at this park. My Orange Chicken bowl was tasty, and I have to say, my wife's Carne Asada was just as good as that from my favorite Mexican restaurant back home. 

We had more time than we thought, so we walked through Bugs Land and Hollywood, stopping to ride Monsters Inc. An absolute walk on all the way to the cab. Both impressed our first timers for their kid friendliness and charm. And let's be honest: Bugsland looks great at night. (Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was not a draw, nor was Screamin', as my daughter is pregnant and the other two don't like dropping rides. I love them both, but I wanted to be a good guide to everyone else, so I was ok skipping them this visit.)

Time for World of Color. We got to the Red zone, taking our place among the crowd. I watched Paradise Pier lit up at night and realized this is when it is the most attractive. Too bad most of the rides close for the water show! I think a cruise on the Fun Wheel would take on a special thrill if the water mist hit you at different times as you went around. Steve Davison's craft is at its peak with this show, and everyone agreed it is not to be missed. The three of us that have seen Epcot's Illuminations found World of Color almost as good. That's saying a lot! Main difference being the scale and scope of the area and the impressiveness of the countries of World Showcase being part of the show make Florida's attraction take the lead spot. Mickey's head cannot duplicate that blessing of size and what you can accomplish with it there! While the pavilions are elegant and add to the show, Mickey's Fun Wheel is also effective, but much like Paradise Pier, it screams for attention with its in your face design.

The water show ended our evening. We walked out through the wilderness of the forest and into Disney's Grand Californian. The moonlight made the area particularly beautiful. It would have been terrific to be staying in that resort overlooking that part of the park. The prices, however, are beyond this average man's salary, and if I had it, I'd rather use it to stay at the Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World.

Speaking of Walt Disney World, our first timer ended the day by stating he now had to go to Florida. Seems for all the missteps of the California property, there's still plenty of magic there. At least in his eyes- and I so agree!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

October 31, 2011

The Littlest Lion

Halloween's littlest lion showed up at our home for a surprise visit. Isn't he just the cutest part of the animal kingdom!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

October 30, 2011

Happy Birthday to You

With much love and birthday greetings to my amazing wife. We have such a rich and full life by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ- nothing else like Him! We're not the same as we were back then, but so much better and even more in love. Oh how the years go by- and I love you more day by day!

October 29, 2011

It Really is a Small World

We were just strolling around Denver's Park Meadows shopping center, looking for a few gifts. Of course, Christmas is appearing everywhere- I mean, it is not even Halloween yet, what do you expect!- and we stumbled into Nordstroms. We had just been talking about our recent trip to Disneyland, when we saw this in the Children's Department. The sales lady laughed when she saw us take a photo. We explained we had just been to Walt's original. She commented she liked the work of Mary Blair, likes the It's a Small World ride, but was very thankful the song wasn't playing in her department as she couldn't take it all day long. Pretty funny. Some things are universal I guess...

October 26, 2011

A Quiet Coastline

Not your typical beach glamour shot today. During most of our recent trip to the land of LA, the skies were over cast everytime we got even close to Newport Beach or Laguna. It certainly wasn't swimming with people, but the fact that it was empty and calm made it a delightful time. There's something about me being at the beach regardless of the season. It's a time I always feel the power and presence of God- and Jesus himself feels so close to me here. I know he is everywhere, but the roar of the ocean always calls me to him.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

October 25, 2011

Winter on the Way

Tomorrow's forecast calls for lots of snow by midday. Certainly not my favorite time of year, and I'd be lying if I tried to convince otherwise. But...the day after can look rather beautiful. I will try to enjoy it this year. Try, being the operative word!
(Photographer unknown)

October 24, 2011

Welcome Back!

Just returned home from our vacation away. Oh, my back! Small seats on United, uncomfortable at best. Lots of pains, but lots of stories to tell. Including my one son-in-law's first visit to Disneyland and California Adventure. Stay tuned...

October 13, 2011

Countdown to Relaxation

Let the countdown begin!

It won't be long until we are on our way for a fun in the sun filled week in California. The land of dreams and opportunity. (Sounds like a great advertisement, doesn't it?) Cannot wait!

Wanna see more great photos and a detailed trip report from another visit? See "Coast Stories" here.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

October 11, 2011

First Timer Advice Wanted

Getting close to a family vacation. One where we will be taking our son-in-law to Disneyland for his first trip ever. To any Disney park. He's been told the place is everything from wonderful to almost Westworld creepily perfect. We've got one day, and we are even considering a parkhopper and trying to do California Adventure as well. Everyone in the family has their own ideas. What would you do to make a great first impression?

October 10, 2011

Within Sight

Thank God! And I mean that.

My vacation is finally within sight. The last amount of time I had off was for my daughter's wedding. It was a great time, but certainly it wasn't restful. Posts may be light at best, but I'll have new stories to tell upon my return. Departure's still many days off, but I can see clearly now...

October 8, 2011

First Snowfall

First snowfall of the year. Yes, really. Tomorrow, it could be 75 degrees. Surprises me every year, everytime. Welcome to Colorado!

October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs Passes Away

Steve Jobs has died. He offered an Apple, and he changed the world. May he rest in peace.

October 3, 2011

Autumn Leaves and Summer Leaves

Autumn leaves fall, and my thoughts turn inward as another summer of my life passes away. In a bit of introspection, I am realizing I can let time slide away while I am propelled by the busyness of life. Too many things to do, people to see, projects to complete.

Summer's always meant a youthful, playful time, where the days seem endless and the nights are filled with pleasure. Dinners alfresco, nighttime walks, children laughing at fireworks, fires on the beach and more. How I wish those days would never end! But summer's charms also keep me from thinking of eternity and what really matters.

Will my life reflect the heart of God for the people around me? Will those who see me see Jesus in me, His Holy Spirit guiding and directing my life, my words, my actions? Will I finish well- and make my life count for something greater than just years spent on earth? So many questions. Summer's gone, and it's time to refocus once again.

October 1, 2011

Happy 40th Walt Disney World

Happy 40th Anniversary Walt Disney World!
On this day many years ago, East Coast fans of Walt Disney finally had their own playground much closer than the original kingdom, Disneyland in California.

So many happy memories from my first visit in 1975 to my last visit in 2009-

  • Dining at the California Grille and watching the fireworks explode over the Magic Kingdom

  • Watching my then preschool aged kids at Fort Wilderness eating up their ice cream treats

  • Those special dinners with my wife- all over the property

  • Spending time with my beloved grandmother walking around the Magic Kingdom

  • Loving every inch of Liberty Square

  • Watching the Electrical Water Pageant from the Polynesian Village

... and so much more. While I point out its flaws and share about what I see in the future, Walt Disney World will always hold a special place in my heart. So many great memories with my family from generations before and hopefully with ones to come. Thank you, Walt Disney Company, and especially Roy Disney, for making Walt's and many other peoples dreams come true.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 30, 2011

Bring It Here Now

Today's news that Chipotle founder Steve Ells has a new Asian restaurant brought a huge smile to my face. ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen debuted in Washington D.C., home to a deservingly wide assortment of international cuisine.

Chipotle, and local gourmet burger joint Diego Zhang's, just happen to be two of my favorite places to grab a bite for lunch or dinner. If you throw in my other favorite local spot, Snooze, for breakfast, I'm set to eat in town for the day! But back to the news...
Let's just say I'm thrilled- and cannot wait to get in line in Denver for some great Asian treats. Between now and then, next trip to D.C., and you'll find me in Dupont Circle checking the place out.

September 26, 2011

Doctor, Doctor

My eldest son received his doctorate today, and I couldn't be prouder! Took lots of years and lots of hard work. He persevered through the difficult times, late night assignments, and just did the sweat equity. Congratulations! You're a fine man, and your Dad is very proud of you!

September 23, 2011

California Adventure's Retro Cool Attraction Posters

Every little step of the California Adventure makeover continues to make me hopeful this park will be worthy of the Disney name!

The newest attraction posters for Soarin' Over California, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and especially the Red Car Trolleys just scream class. Retro class, retro cool. I cannot wait for the transformation to be complete. Buena Vista Street, here I come!

(Art copyright the Walt Disney Company)