August 31, 2011

D23- Much Ado About Nothing?

What a difference a couple of weeks makes!

While I was in the real world and away from the on line one, the Walt Disney Company held its 2011 D23 convention in Anaheim, California. Seems like it was full of surprises- especially in the Parks division- and maybe not in a good way.

For west coast parks, it was a showcase of what's to come soon for California Adventure with even a bit of surprising news for Disneyland thrown in. Special presentations on both Cars Land (who cannot get excited now?) and Buena Vista Street (ditto) delighted attenders of the sessions with detailed looks at the park's long desired frostings on the cake. But those were a given, weren't they?

So when I returned from an extended service project putting shoe leather to my deeply held conviction of Jesus Christ being the only perfect sacrifice given for the sins of mine and all men, I expected some news that would thrill and delight me. It wasn't to be.

My first reaction after browsing the internet sites brought a collective question best summed up as "...but what about...?" Fill in the blanks here: Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and particularly Shanghai Disneyland.

The model of Shanghai Disneyland was certainly unimpressive from what I could tell, revealing nothing but the deep commitment to secrecy to prevent competitors from delivering cheap knock offs of the attractions. We fans should not be surprised by this, as the Chinese have been producing knock offs of famous brands for ages be it clothing, coffee shops, or even theme parks.

Aside from a fan pleasing virtual ride through of the classic unbuilt Western River Expedition, there was little to please those most looking forward to something, anything, on the east coast.

Animal Kingdom and Epcot need the most refreshing of the Orlando properties, so I did hope there would be something for these two given all the low (high?) profile visits to the Vacation Kingdom of the World by folks rumored to either be buying the place or investing deeply in it. The same could be said for Disneyland Paris and the Studios that creativity has forgotten about. The Ratatouille attraction seemed a given, but then again, I was astounded by no announcement.

In my slight disappointment, a more balanced thought pattern emerged. The Imagineering division of the Walt Disney Company had recently created some wonderful plans for many of the parks- and the budgeteers finally released the cash to bring some to life. The new Fantasyland will be a beauty and is quite the investment into the future of the Magic Kingdom. Again, Shanghai and the plethora of new attractions for Hong Kong Disneyland will do the same in securing the market in China.

Looking deeper, the remodel of theme for Disneyland's Carnation Gardens does create a large lot of available property back in Frontierland; while of course, any announcement for Tomorrowland and especially the Peoplemover tracks would be the icing to anything announced to us rabid fans at a future D23 convention. Instant crowd pleaser. In Florida, leaving room for later surprises almost guarantees another convention in the future as well.

Conclusion? It helped me put my expectations in check. The Company we love to love and sometimes hate has given us much recently. And there is more to come. Be patient with me because I believe another couple of years will produce another Carousel of Projects, a list of announcements that will be much to talk about for years.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 26, 2011

Anger Face Productions Hits a Home Run

Now for something a little different. Stumbed across this YouTube video. It's a very well done little piece- both funny and touching, giving viewers a great laugh and some insight to boot! The folks behind Anger Face Productions are pretty talented. Take a look here.

August 24, 2011

Christmas in August

Here's the one upcoming album I am very excited about this season! Michael BublĂ© finally wraps has terrific vocals around some great, classic Christmas music on a full length album. His is the voice of Christmas for this generation, just as Karen Carpenter was for hers. Speaking of the Carpenters, both their holiday albums still rule the Christmas speakers in our home. Christmas Portrait and An Old Fashioned Christmas continue to delight decades after their release. Want a couple of album reviews? Go to these posts: here and here, respectively.

August 22, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

Something about the comforts of home! It would be easy to talk about all the memories there and the sense of calm being in your own abode, but the reality is, it is the people who make a house worth coming home to! Special thanks to my wife and my children for all the years of making our house the one I cannot wait to come back to.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

August 17, 2011

Light Cycles on Their Way to Shanghai

Honor Hunter (love the name!) over at Blue Sky Disney must have some of the best connections to the Walt Disney Company, particularly in Imagineering! In his latest post, Honor spills some of the beans on the attraction roster for Shanghai Disneyland. As expected, there is a great line up, but it is the Light Cycles attraction from the movie Tron: Legacy that has me most excited!Sure, it looks like it is coming at the expense of the classic Space Mountain, but it could be a worthwhile tradeoff. Want to read more of Honor's headline worthy news for the Disney fans? Go here.

August 15, 2011

Disney World Trip Report- 20 Years From Last Visit!

Imagine if you will... not having been to Walt Disney World for almost 20 years. Hard to think of for us Disney geeks, but it was reality for my sister and her husband. And I'm here to give you a second hand trip report as told to me by her. Perhaps you may see the Resort through a new set of eyes.
As with any trip report, it begins with who is traveling. In this case, my sister and her husband, both 50ish, and two daughters, one 26 and the other 17. My eldest niece last saw Walt Disney World in May of 1992, and my younger one had never been to the Vacation Kingdom of the World. My brother in law is by no means a big fan of Disney. In fact, he would probably prefer Universal Studios or a Marvel based theme park, but hint, hint, he is a huge lover of the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.

Due to other obligations, the parents arrived in Orlando first. They stayed at Lake Buena Vista. Immediate reactions to Orlando? "So many palm trees!" Spent the evening relaxing at Downtown Disney followed by a swim. The youngest daughter arrived the next evening, the eldest one day later than her sister- but the eldest was also departing a day earlier to go back to her husband on the West Coast. This left 3 days total for all of them to experience the resort together, beach time excluded.

Day One: Disney's Hollywood Studios, party of three.

Since the eldest daughter had been to Disney's California Adventure as well as Disneyland, they decided to do the former Disney-MGM Studios without her. She had ridden the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror already and little else seemed to appeal to her. Even though we hard core fans know each version is different and that Florida's is superior, here is the "reverse downside" of cloning attractions on both coasts. Anyone from California and familiar with that resort may bypass the Studios due to their view of a lack of compelling unique attractions there.

Arriving at the park well after opening, they began their day with a quick ride on Rock N Rollercoaster- which unanimously remained their favorite attraction in the park. I asked why. "It's just fun!" The Great Movie Ride was "ok" but the spectacular entrance of the Wicked Witch of the West was the highlight of the aging attraction. Star Tours 2 - great. Their journey through the Tower of Terror surprised and impressed them by the 5th Dimension room, eliciting a family friendly expression of shock.

The longest line for the day (at 20 minutes) remained Toy Story Midway Mania, and beyond three limousine rides with Aerosmith, it was the only ride they deemed repeatable. A quick lunch in a nameless restaurant (not a good sign if it couldn't be remembered or described) and no shopping led to an early evening exit. They had no interest in seeing Fantasmic!, however, a last minute choice to see the Little Mermaid theater show as they walked past left my sister with a smile on her face. Dinner was at Earl of Sandwhich, a pattern which would be repeated several times. And another swim ended the night.

Day Two: Magic Kingdom, party of four

Since daughter number one had to be picked up at the airport at around 11:00am, they did not arrive at the Magic Kingdom until 1:30pm. Dropped the car off straight at the lot and took the monorail in from the Transportation and Ticket Center. As I suspected, the ride on the Monorail past the resorts and around the lake made quite the impression on my youngest niece as it was her first visit to the park most appropriately compared to Disneyland.

Pirates of the Caribbean beckoned as the first destination. The remaining order was blurry in her memory, but Splash Mountain was happily with no wait due to Fast Pass- yet it was balanced out by a lengthy 40 minutes for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Not to be found in Disneyland, Liberty Square looked great, but it was not enough to grab their attention beyond the visit into the Haunted Mansion. No mention of the enhanced queue, and I didn't ask leading questions just so I could see what she told me about.

Fantasyland: Here, I quote my sister's reaction to It's a Small World- "It was just so beautiful compared to California!" No Philharmagic, instead they chose Snow White's Scary Adventures. And they were not told by me or did not realize it was on the chopping block due to the new Fantasyland Forest expansion. No Winnie the Pooh- "Saw that in California"or any other Fantasyland attraction beyond the ones I have mentioned. No snacking, no shopping.

A good amount of time was spent in Tomorrowland. It was Buzz Lightyear, Stitch, and Monsters, but a journey through Space Mountain was not to be had as the waits were 90 minutes each time they checked.

Interestingly to my way of thinking, there was not a single visit to Country Bear Jamboree or Carousel of Progress. Even though she and I grew up with these California favorites, they obviously did not have the lasting appeal to draw a visit when given the opportunity. Is it time for me to place them in their proper historical context and move on? I'll have to consider that!

To sum up the Magic Kingdom, my sister remarked about the incredibly lovely landscaping, the amount of available space- "the blessing of size"- and the beauty of the castle. Leaving the park after dark meant a stop at the Grand Floridian just to see it, followed by a visit to Gloria Estefan's Bongo's Cuban Cafe. (Great atmosphere, fatty food.)

Day Three: Epcot

Not being early risers, it was quite impressive to me that they arrived at my favorite Florida park before opening! Guess my talk about the Test Track/ Soarin' queues was successful.

Using both Fast Pass and the single rider line, everyone was able to ride Test Track three times total- and snag a ride on Soarin' (another Disney California Adventure favorite) with relatively little wait. A quick spin on nearby Mission:Space made my brother-in-law quite ill, not a small feat. He's a big, ex-football player, with a strong stomach. Needless to say, it was not the highlight of their Epcot day.

As much as the decent on Spaceship Earth is a sore spot for some of us, they found it quite fun, enjoying the personalization at the conclusion. There was no time for Living with the Land - one of our must dos- and The Seas with Nemo and Friends was a big hit, particularly the dark ride portion. No visit into the crystal pyramids of Imagination, either. In fact, I just ride it now to imagine what could and should be compared to the current pale imitation of what once was. Not even Michael Jackson could influence their decision. So much for Future World.

World Showcase was also to their liking. Interestingly, there was not a single mention of any particular attraction here (quite telling!)but stopping for lunch at the Yakitori House and a quick dessert at the new La Hacienda de San Angel made for a pleasant diversion between attractions. In spite of my sales pitch to stay for Illuminations - the best nighttime show on the property- , they opted out, left the park early for dinner once again at Earl of Sandwhich and an evening swim.

Day Four: Disney's Animal Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon

For each Disney park enthusiast, there is that first time we walk into a brand new theme park. It happens so rarely; the thrill of new discovery, the fresh eyes to see things never encountered before, lots of "How did the Imagineers do that?" Honestly, I was very excited for them to experience the park, its immense beauty, and the new attractions- especially my long talked about favorite Expedition: Everest.

It was a choice between Kilimanjaro Safaris and Everest for the first ride of the day. An encounter with the yeti won out. Two happy rides later, they moved onto Kali River Rapids before hitting the safari. Following this up with the Maharaja Jungle Trek, they exited the park for some watery thrills of another kind.

I was shocked to hear this, as given my brother-in-law's love of animals, I expected this park to be the sleeper hit. No Dinosaur? No Festival of the Lion King? What about a meal at Flame Tree Barbecue or a showing of It's Tough to Be a Bug? In asking about the park, their answers made me think of my own observations over the years. In fact, my review of the park based on my last visit seemed very similar. (You can read it here.)

Their's was not a flattering assessment of the place. The animal exhibits were interesting but several "naturalistic" environments could be found at zoos they had seen; not enough Disney attractions (rides); theater shows are not their thing; too much of the same. What about theming and landscaping? Not enough to warrant more time, so they left. Typhoon lagoon was the crowd pleaser of the day, particularly the swim with the sharks. Dinner at Rainforest Cafe finished off the evening.

Day Five: Pony Rides, Goodbyes, and a Last Fling at the Polynesian

Stick ponies that is, at the Whispering Canyon Cafe. My sister had asked me to recommend a great place for breakfast before they reluctantly started dropping the daughters back off at the airport in the afternoon. Whispering Canyon did not disappoint. Nor did the short stroll around the Wilderness Lodge!

The food, the atmosphere, the fun. My sis described this breakfast as one of their most memorable experiences in all of Walt Disney World. Waitresses yelling across the room, pony races, laughing kids, great food. They'd go again in a minute. After an airport run, the adults returned to the Polynesian Village (sorry, I relapse)for a quick bite at Captain Cook's and walking the resort grounds before retiring for the night.

Now the million dollar question: Would they do it again? The answer surprised me. Yes, absolutely, without a doubt. But they would save much more money before they went, would stay on the property, and would spend much more time in recreation and being at the resorts, spreading out their park visits between more leisurely days.

Favorite Park? "Epcot, absolutely"
Favorite Attraction? Expedition Everest, Test Track, or Rock N Rollercoaster
Favorite Meal? Whispering Canyon Cafe

As much as would have loved to be there with them to see things through their eyes, I did get a pretty good idea of it all! I wondered how I could ever enjoy a Vacation Kingdom visit without Illuminations, a visit to at least one sit down Epcot restaurant in World Showcase, and a dozen other things. This isn't even counting favorite attractions!

Sure, opinions will vary, but here are the things they did not say. Not mention of peeling paint, poor upkeep, or too many character based attractions being shoehorned into the parks.

You and I, die hard fans, see these changes and cringe. Rightfully so, as a trip to Walt Disney World today reveals much less care of the parks and groups than that of previous decades. However to the casual or once in a lifetime visitor, the place still packs an impressive wallop. And unfortunately, that very fact is what keeps the current management team from doing more than is absolutely necessary!

August 14, 2011

Shanghai's Fantastic Fairytale Castle

Editor's Note: Come back tomorrow for a unique trip report. A Walt Disney World visit almost 20 years after the last one! Incredible!

Really?! This is the name of the castle for Shanghai Disneyland?... "Fantastic Fairytale Castle". So generic. So unimaginative. So marketing driven. According to this article by the People's Daily, that is the name of the beautiful edifice soon to debut on Mainland China. It's about as charming as using "Mischievous Rodent" for the name of The Walt Disney Company icon.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 8, 2011

Plumber's Crack

Just finished a lengthy and frustrating plumbing job! A broke garbage disposal, leaky faucet, and chipped sink finally caught up with us. After spending too much money and too many hours, the job is done. My wife is a rock star! She could think through all the logistics and not bat an eye at the level of work needed to finish the job. I'm all thumbs. Glad I married a handy man!

August 6, 2011

Concept Pieces for Adventure Thru Inner Space

Time for a Disneyland gem: Adventure Thru Inner Space premiered on August 5, 1967. It was one of several new attractions for the revamped land, making Tomorrowland truly a world on the move.

The PeopleMover cruised through this land, giving guests a tour of all the new attractions by weaved in and out of each building. The unique views of Adventure Thru Inner Space enticed guests to hop off the brand new transportation system and turn around and queue for a fantastic adventure aboard an Atomobile.

Journeys into the world of a melting snowflake made for a dynamic attraction as riders viewed molecules, orbiting electrons, and eventually the nucleus itself in very dark and cool showrooms. A somewhat psychedelic sounding musical score enhanced the atmosphere. Made for a great escape on a hot summer day! As you can tell from the sketch above and the more finished concept art at the top, the Disney Imagineers created a powerful draw of an attraction- especially for teens clamoring for a little intimacy with their dates!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 4, 2011

Elliott Gets Real

Let's Get to What's Real.

There's no doubt in my mind that this man can sing. None whatsoever. He can write. But I wasn't exactly rushing out to buy the American Idol's third studio disc. Gather 'round by Elliott Yamin should have been another hit. First, I'd have to pay import prices as no American based record label wanted it. Secondly, it would have to come from Japan, so I wasn't willing to wait, and the disc eventually fell off my radar. However, an Amazon gift card changed all that, and soon enough, the collection was on its way.

The opening number, Three Words, is effective but doesn't grab my ear the way Fight for Love or Wait for You did when I first heard those earlier releases. Not a good sign. Even though I am a big fan of the voice and love all the background vocals, it just seemed as if Elliott was trying too hard. The rest of the cuts on side one didn't do it for me either.

The disc's title opens the second half and is a pretty fun cut. Later, Self Control had great promise but ends much too quickly at just over two and a quarter minutes.

Just as I was about to call the disc a wash and relegate it to my storage bins, the slow jam 70's groove of Let's Get to What's Real popped into my head, winning me over with its old school elegance and catchy lyrical hook. Philly soul meets modern day R&B, an instantly likable, unexpected hit. Relaxed and comfortable in his own skin, Elliott belongs here- honoring the greats of the past by bringing in new songs with an older style.

The man who won the audience's over with his stellar rendition of Moody's Mood for Love should step back and reaccess where he's going musically. With his songwriting skills, terrific voice, and warm personality, Elliott Yamin should make his idols, Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, quite proud. I'm up for one more try...

August 2, 2011

Time to Fix the Magic

Every fan of the website MiceAge knows founder Al Lutz is rightfully hard on the Walt Disney Company when it comes to the theme parks. Whether it was the deteriorating state of Disneyland in the 90's or the debacle of California Adventure in 2001, Al was among the first not to sugar coat what was going on, calling the company back to high standards in design and upkeep. The results of his hard work have contributed to raising the standard. Now, aside from the gorgeously built and maintained Tokyo Disney Resort, the Anaheim property stands tallest among the ones Stateside and in Europe.

Walt Disney World has had no such champion willing to go to bat for high quality- up until now. Fix the Magic is a new site dedicated to returning the Florida complex to a place where mediocrity no longer exists. It's a start-up for sure, but it is a beginning. Show your support. Maybe, just maybe, a few years from now this site will be part of the reason Walt Disney World returns to its former glory- and not because of very popular wizard down the highway began to outshine the one in Florida that started it all!