May 29, 2013

If You Had Wings, Had Wings, Had Wings...

In a retro sort of mood today... 

I kinda want to fly away to some tropical isle, grab a drink of vibrant colors and stick my toes in the sand.  Watch the sun go down while some steel drum band plays.

But since its impossible today, I'll just settle for humming a little Disney tune I've always loved, If You Had Wings. The chestnut Tomorrowland attraction was one of the main reasons I went to that side of the Magic Kingdom park, and I was smitten by my first ride. Eastern Airlines had a winner on its hands. Like so many beloved Walt Disney World attractions, its gone now.

Its unique combination of props, film, atmosphere and music was later duplicated for Epcot's El Rio del Tiempo but the Imagineers were mandated to destroy another classic in recent years due to a character invasion. Gran Fiesta Tour is just not quite as enchanting...

May 28, 2013

Before Tom Sawyer Island Went PC

If memory serves me correctly, that settler's cabin on Tom Sawyer Island used to really burn. Of course it did! I've seen it myself for years. 

This image, a small piece of Imagineering concept art for Disneyland, comes from a Preview of Coming Attractions circa 1963- years before Pirates of the Caribbean and decades before these pirates would invade the island. 

Is the remodel well done? Yes, for what it is. Did they destroy yet another piece of Frontierland by taking down even more vegetation for a pirates inspired show? Yes- and it makes the waterfront piece of property less mysterious and more civilized. Honestly, I liked it better more rustic and inviting. There are so few true Frontierland experiences left in the park. So long Mike Fink Keelboats as well. Thank God the suits haven't touched the Sailing Ship Columbia and the Mark Twain Steamboat.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 27, 2013

Our Thanks to You

Thank you- and bless you- to all the men and women of the military who make our freedoms possible! Your service and your sacrifice make it possible for us to live in a free country with the right to express ourselves. Even those foolish Americans who despise their country, what it was built on, and what it stands for, owe you a debt of gratitude! 

May 26, 2013

Hawaii 2006

Nice memories- a great trip with good friends. Something we'll always remember...

May 24, 2013

Universal Keeps Adding to Take the Crown from Disney in Florida

They're up to it again! Universal Orlando announced their under construction Springfield area, home to The Simpsons. Disney seemingly is sitting on their thumbs while they wait for D23 expo to come around in August. With Diagon Alley coming soon and something rumored for Jurassic Park, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida are becoming the new must-see parks in Florida. I know I will be taking a day or two out of my Disney trip to go Universal. Will you?

(Artwork copyright Universal Creative.)

May 23, 2013

Overlooked Attractions at the Magic Kingdom

After having so much fun telling you about my favorite Overlooked Attractions at Disneyland, I thought I would move on and share my favorite ways to enjoy the smaller attractions and special experiences in the  Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World

By most accounts, the incredible men and women of Imagineering were tasked with designing a different Magic Kingdom than Disneyland, a park for a different audience and for a different purpose. Remember, Walt Disney had his thoughts focused on an EPCOT that truly was an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. The theme park was to be the weenie to draw folks to it.

Perhaps its this explanation that answers the question as to why there are fewer smaller, charming attractions at the park versus its older sibling. They are not fully forgotten, just fewer in number and different in nature. Let's look at a few:

1- Tom Sawyer Island. No pirates here, just old fashioned fun with Tom, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher. It's one of the last remaining old school attractions. The only mistake? Removing Aunt Polly's patio- a great place to get a drink and watch the World go by. Or take a long leisurely look at the creepy Haunted Mansion perched high up on that bluff across the river.

2- Liberty Square. This Walt Disney World original still charms me. Even without riding its two landmark attractions, Mansion and Hall of Presidents, the place seems to cry out for exploration. There are sleepy little corners for sitting and watching the world go by. Small discoveries like the Liberty Tree and its thirteen lanterns help ground the Disney fantasy into a bit of history. 

3- Pinocchio Village Haus. Granted, navigating Fantasyland in the afternoon hours when its not a necessity may be crazy. Yet there's something sweet about taking an upstairs table, sipping a Coke, and watching the boats cruise into It's a Small World

4- Walt Disney World Railroad / PeopleMover. Either of these transportation systems provides a welcome relief from the crowds that by nature follow the "E Ticket" attractions. In the Florida heat, a journey on both provide a nice breeze as well as sights not available to those walking the park. This includes a view of the Contemporary Resort outside the Magic Kingdom- reminding guests we are at Walt Disney World, after all.

5- Swiss Family Treehouse. What is there to be said that hasn't already been said? While Disneyland transformed its version into Tarzan's Treehouse, cooler and wiser heads prevailed in its younger sibling. (It does happen!) Jungle sights, jungle sounds, and the iconic Swisskapolka. It doesn't get much better than walking high above it all, listening, dreaming, remembering.

6- The Crystal Palace. Just the sight of this restaurant, and I'm taken back to another time and place. A leisurely meal here is now expensive, but to sit back in the corner and view the building's details reminds me of the care and artwork that went into designing Disney's second kingdom. The glass elements of the atrium domes are gorgeous. Obviously well designed and well loved.

7- Monorails / Ferry Boats. Arriving at the park via one of these systems is a delight! The monorails cruise high above it all, and a trip through the lobby of the Contemporary Resort never fails to impress. On the other hand, a waterborne journey across the Seven Seas Lagoon to the Magic Kingdom is an attraction in its own right. The mild waves, the boaters enjoying the water, and the ground level view of each resort with the castle up ahead builds anticipation for a great day at Florida's number one park. Which do I prefer? It's a toss up! And something no other Disney resort has!

As you can tell, beyond the headlining attractions, much of my enjoyment of the Magic Kingdom is sightseeing in the truest sense. That's part of the secret of enjoying the whole World- slow down, relax, and enjoy the sights and sounds of the number one attraction in the world.

Maybe I ought to take a look at Epcot next...

(Art copyright Walt Disney Company.)

May 20, 2013

Fixing the New Fantasyland

Love it, loathe it, or something in between, the Magic Kingdom's latest addition is here to stay. The New Fantasyland  aka Fantasy Forest etc. is the new model for that area of the classic Disney park. For now seen only at Walt Disney World.

Aesthetically, it is lovely to look at. I haven't been there yet, but on line photos and videos give a great sense of what has been accomplished. Ariel's Undersea Adventure is a solid "D" Ticket attraction in an "E" Ticket building- a direct clone of what was once a California Adventure exclusive. It's not a perfect old school classic, but it is enjoyable and draws in the younger crowd.

Belle's village charms, and a walk through attraction to meet her seems to satisfy to some degree. Just as The Little Mermaid's story is told through music, so is Beauty and The Beast told that way. But there's something missing with no music to be found. 

Time to dust off the plans for this attraction once proposed for Disneyland Paris. This old style Audio-Animatronic attraction similar to the Enchanted Tiki Room would complete the experience. Imagine Lumiere as our host with a cast of characters from the film entertaining us in song. I'd say that make a charming addition to the area.

As I said, this idea comes from an abandoned show once planned for Disneyland Paris. Location was already set, but financial strains changed the plans. If you look around the the castle, there's a little alcove with an area for an opening just wide enough for an attraction entrance. It would have been back in there.

Theater style Audio Animatronic shows may be too old-school for current thrill seeking audiences. But isn't Fantasyland just the place for them? If Mickey's Philharmagic can find a home in Florida, certainly this unbuilt gem can fit perfectly in the New Fantasyland.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 19, 2013

The Search for Karen Carpenter

Over at the wonderful A&M Corner site, a few of us Carpenters /  Karen Carpenter fans have been discussing the artwork surrounding her solo album. It's been a lively discussion- and we pretty much all agree that A&M Records' decision to not release it in 1980 was a critical turning point in her career and life. We've been searching for a particular photograph used as the back cover of it but to no avail. (Go to this thread.)

If anyone reading this has information or personal involvement regarding the original artwork for the album, drop me a line here or go to the forum. Thanks. 

No, the photo above isn't it, burt it is one of my favorites. From the "A Kind of Hush" photo sessions. (Click on it for full size.)

May 17, 2013

Rare Universe of Energy Art

Well, here's my morning puzzle! I was looking for an entirely different piece of art for a new post, and I ran across this one instead. By its description, its an Imagineering piece on the Universe of Energy, Future World, EPCOT. Proposed, never built. Probably never will be. Does anyone out there have more information on this?

Correction: This may in fact be artwork for an unrealized concept- the Science and Technology pavilion. Anyone know more?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 16, 2013

60 Years of Imagineering

Summer's here and that means D23 Summer 2013 edition is on its way. In addition to the expected front page photo of Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer in The Lone Ranger, there is a nice article and back cover art about Imagineering. Ex-Imagineer Tony Baxter gets some props- just look at what is featured.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 13, 2013

Modern Day Monster

Regardless of your view of abortion, there is no justifying the monstrous acts of Dr. Kermit Goshnell. This modern day monster murdered children post delivery. Post delivery!?! Is there any other word for this than murder? No, but some- not all- pro-choice believers will make excuses for his actions because they have "no choice" but to defend a position so strongly defended and held even if it is wrong. 

Are unplanned pregnancies a problem? Yes- and I know them well- they've impacted my family more than once. Is the solution murder of innocent children? Absolutely not. Whether or not well meaning people adopt unwanted children does not make others' pro abortion beliefs and the murder of innocent children acceptable to God. Any way you view it, it's a straw man argument to try to justify it. 

(Photograph by Yong Kim AP)

May 11, 2013

Overlooked Attractions at Disneyland

With space at a premium and lines everywhere for the large attractions Disneyland is famous for, the smaller experiences are well worth exploring. Here are some of my favorites: 

 1- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Walt Disney loved America and was justifiably proud of its culture and achievements. Disneyland reflects the man's heart. At opening, Frontierland represented the pioneering spirit of the people and Main Street U.S.A. its heart. In the years before he died, Walt was able to see one of his heroes come to life, Abraham Lincoln. This Audio-Animatronic masterpiece debuted at the 1964 World's Fair, but made its way to Disneyland at closing. It's more effective than Walt Disney World's Hall of Presidents found in the Magic Kingdom. There, guests are overwhelmed by the spectacle of all the presidents at the expense of the message and its power. Nowadays, as folks rush past its entrance on their way to Indiana Jones Adventure and Splash Mountain, Mr. Lincoln remains in quiet dignity, reflecting an old school Disneyland and its early charm. 

 2- The Hungry Bear Restaurant. OK, I do not always eat here, but there's that intangible aspect to this place that draws me back repeatedly. A combination of peaceful surroundings, the sounds of nature in the middle of Anaheim, and the fact few visitors ever go all the way out to the bear end. the perfect place to sit, relax, and watch the world go by. 

 3- Sailing Ship Columbia. The Mark Twain Riverboat may get all the glory- especially on those rare occasions when it is possible to sail at night, but its the Columbia that impresses me more when I take a chance to explore the ship and its lower deck. The attention to detail is part of the appeal, and this nod to America's nautical history is just another example of a park that is a national treasure for good reason. 

 4- The French Market. Not an attraction in the traditional sense, but its is definitely one for me! There's something so appealing about a leisurely meal here, listening to a little jazz, and sitting at a cafe table, sipping a mint julep. It's not the real thing, but its as close as we can get to New Orleans west of the Mississippi. Besides, for Disney park lovers, the real thing has a hard time competing with Pirates of the Caribbean on one side and the Haunted Mansion on the other! 

 5- Alice in Wonderland. Admittedly, I do not always make it on this gem of an attraction, as for the last two decades my visits are shorter, limited to one day, and now with two parks to explore. Timing is everything, and if I get into Fantasyland later than 9 or 10am, the line is already trouble. Most guests prefer Peter Pan or Mr. Toad to a zany trip with Alice, and I generally do as well. All said, when I do ride, I am always surprised by just how clever and good the attraction is! The original Disney inspired characters are much warmer and likable then those found in the Tim Burton / Johnny Depp revamp, and the music and narration adds just the right whimsy to the proceedings- all the way to the explosive ending! 

 6- Mickey's Toontown. Like much of Fantasyland, as an adult male, I avoid this area of the park when the crowds settle. On that rare day when the numbers are light, I'll venture into the space to enjoy all the gags the Imagineers put in place. Surprises everywhere- many overlooked by the little ones enjoying attractions designed just for them. 

 7- Fire House. Since one of my daughters married a fireman, I decided to stop into the fire house on one of my recent visits. The number of artifacts found inside surprised me, causing me to stop and remember that Main Street U.S.A. is meant for exploring and not just for shopping. A ride on the Fire Engine is fun, but its what's upstairs that is even more appealing: Walt Disney's own apartment, where a light is always burning in tribute to the man that started it all.

(I highlighted the piece with a Disneyland Map from 1958- just for a bit of fun.) 

May 8, 2013

Harry's Wizarding World Expands in 2014

Gotta hand it to the folks at Universal Creative. They have come up with an innovative plan as they continue to expand the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. First step: Bring the boy wizard to Islands of Adventure. Immediate acclaim for a state of the art attraction The Forbidden Journey. But now here is where it gets very interesting for me. Step Two: Add Harry to Universal Studios park, and connect both locations by a train- a combination transportation device and attraction. Creating two parks that are now a must see for any Harry fan traveling to Florida. And finish it off with a trip down Diagon Alley and a roller coaster journey themed to Gringott's Bank. Add in shops, restaurants. Instant classic- and for me, one less day at Walt Disney World.

(Artwork copyright Universal Creative.)

Gloria Estefan Sings The Standards

Well now... September 10, 2013 seems oh so very far away. That's the release date for Gloria Estefan's new album, The Standards. The way I see it, it is about time that she covers some classics! Can you imagine her warm, smoky voice doing the great tunes of the 20th Century? Boy, I can! Can't wait to hear her versions of What a Wonderful World and The Way You Look Tonight

If you want a little preview of what she can do with this genre, listen to her fairly recent duet with Tony Bennett on "Who Can I Turn To?" or "Come Rain or Come Shine" with Frank Sinatra

May 6, 2013

Where I Want To Be!

From the great photo site Tours Departing Daily comes this photograph of where I want to be. Cars Land. At Disney California Adventure. Radiator Springs Racers to be specific. And then I'd like to cap off the ride with a breakfast at Flo's V-8 Cafe. It's almost summer, and it's time for a road trip.

(Photograph copyright Tours Departing Daily.)

May 5, 2013

Cinco de Mayo at Epcot

Last year's post on Cinco de Mayo was so good, here it is again: 

Today, May 5th, Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico's conquest of the French during the time of the Civil War in the United States. Its the perfect day to be with family and friends over chips, salsa, and frosty margaritas celebrating... at Epcot's gorgeous Mexico World Showcase!

This one pavilion has the unique distinction in all of World Showcase of being mostly indoors. From a casual view, all guests can see is a waterside restaurant, a small taco stand, and a large, imposing pyramid. Once inside the pyramid, it's a showstopper! In shades of Disneyland's Blue Bayou, night skies dominate, and the music of mariachis fills the air. The quaint central plaza built in the beautiful Colonial style includes shops, a small museum, and a waterfront restaurant. Colorful lanterns hang in the air while mariachis play. A distant volcano spews smoke, and a smaller pyramid just on the far side of the river beckons further exploration. 

Although the very charming, dignified, and mysterious El Rio del Tiempo attraction has now been replaced by the escapades of three fowl friends, the pavilion is still a cause for celebration. Margaritas, anyone? No? How about a boat ride through history instead?

At the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, the Disney Imagineers set a new creative standard for themselves. Walt Disney's EPCOT- Creating the New World of Tomorrow by Richard R. Beard details the creation and execution of this cutting edge park- the first non-Magic Kingdom style playground ever built by the Mouse.

Let's look at a few pieces of concept art and photos of the splendid Mexico pavillion circa opening year. (All images are able to be enlarged.)

When we first visited EPCOT Center in 1983, this pavilion was a clear favorite among all the World Showcase countries represented. The main medium for telling the story of the country was a Disney first: a large part of the signature attraction was told through the medium of dance, but any Disney fan will also see the strong influences of other attractions, most notably If You Had Wings, and old Magic Kingdom favorite.

Inside the large temple, a small Mexican village is darkened by eternal nighttime, and there is some celebration happening!  A perfect afternoon lunch sitting waterside sipping margaritas and eating Queso Fundido made it tempting to do nothing else, but the boats cruising El Rio del Tiempo got us get out of our seats.

The boat cruise was designed to be much more grand, closer on the scale of Pirates of the Caribbean in length and immersion. However, the budgets were blown, time was short before opening day, and adjustments had to be made. Such is the life of an Imagineer! Their accomplishment still impresses, so on with the journey!

Once aboard, our departure onto the river is at once peaceful and mysterious. As  we enter another temple, and our adventure begins with a dose of Disney magic: Encountering a high priest, dancers soon surround, moving to ancient rhythms. In its original form, this section was the showpiece of the attraction. The history of the people makes for a stunning story, and here, it was told in an equally stunning presentation.

The doll filled celebration of the Day of the Dead startles with the flavors of It's a Small World, but it's only a small segment of the ride. The contrast from one style used to tell the story to another is almost jarring, but it does keep the guests from getting bored! 

We continue into other regions depicting the Mexico of the Travel Channel: Beaches, parties, and tourist sites. It's a step down from the elegance of what we saw earlier, but it is playful and enjoyable. The music is memorable, and any EPCOT Center lover worth his title as fan can hum the song even while reading this post!

The Imagineers did an excellent job capturing the culture of our friends south of the border. The end result reflected a true labor of love even if doused with a shot of economic reality. It was a beloved attraction that only needed a tune up. However, the suits at Disney were looking for a new way to make a buck once sponsorship had ended, so in came the movie tie-in.

Recent revisions to the boat ride employed an insertion of The Three Caballeros film and Donald Duck and friends. It's sassy and kid-friendly, but just plain wrong. This major mistake stripped the dignity and sophistication imbred into EPCOT Center since its inception. It is a trend which must stop if the Walt Disney Company wishes to capture the travel dollar of discriminating guests looking for something different than a new style Magic Kingdom.

There's plenty of reasons to celebrate Mexico and her culture today- and I wish that I could do it by going back in time to ride Epcot's gorgeous but long gone, El Rio del Tiempo.  There are dozens of YouTube videos, but one of my favorites is here.

The past is the past, but what a glorious time it was back at EPCOT Center's opening...
 Vaya con Dios!
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 4, 2013

Missing Two Old School Divas- Donna and Whitney

Sure, both American Idol and The Voice provide viewers and listeners with some new and great talent- and actually, Idol is far more successful at this than The Voice

That said, after last week's shows, it's hard not to miss a couple of old school divas- Whitney Houston and Donna Summer. (Read my review about her landmark album by the same name here.) Contestants on the competitions tend to fail miserably when that choose to undertake songs from either ladies. That says a lot, doesn't it?

May 2, 2013

Candice Glover Sparkles on American Idol

Hardly seems right, but many are already predicting that Candice Glover will be passed over when American Idol crowns its next champion. It's a shame!

Here is a beautiful soul with a warm and amazing voice. Elegant, classy, and every bit as marketable as Amber Holcomb, Angie Miller and Kree Harrison. When Candice slides into her sophisticated version of Billie Holiday's "You've Changed", time seems to stand still. Just stunning. Harry Connick Jr. rightly praised her, and judges Keith Urban, Mariah Carey and Randy Jackson did as well. (Am I forgetting someone? Oh yes, Nicki Minaj, the most annoying judge to ever dis-grace the panel. Get rid of her and watch the show's ratings rise again.)

Candice is consistent week after week, yet sometimes she chooses just the right combination of song and arrangement to show that she is an artist and not just a contestant. A great artist at that. There's a hint of early Whitney Houston's gorgeous higher notes,  the "money's in the basement" lower tones of ADELE, (love that quote by Karen Carpenter!), and at times, the breezy delivery of old school jazz singers. Quite the combination.

Will I be buying her album? We'll see who produces her! But I want to. Will you?