May 28, 2015

One Less Day at Disney, One More Day at Universal

Count me in as one more person who will be taking his family to Universal Orlando Resort! This means one less day at Disney, but with the coming Volcano Bay, and all the new attractions found at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, I'll just have to give up the day at too-many-attractions-closed Disney's Hollywood Studios and still-a-half-day Animal Kingdom. The incredible streak of hits from Universal Creative continues to transform Central Florida.

(Art copyright Universal Creative.)

May 27, 2015

Disneyland Paris Tricks- See It All in One Day

You get to travel to the world famous city of Paris. Although time is relatively short, you've convinced your spouse to give you one day at Disneyland Paris to indulge your Disney side. How can you see and do it all in one day? Let me show you what to hit, what to miss, and how to do it.

After three visits in three different seasons, I noticed a few trends that should help make a visit to this most gorgeous of all "Castle Parks" a delight. Be it Summer, Fall or Winter, the plan is strikingly the similar and should bring the same result. Let's begin.

1- Go Early with Pre-purchased Tickets.
This cardinal rule of theme park visits holds true in Europe as well.  You'll be tempted to stop and admire the gorgeous gardens right in front of the Disneyland Hotel (and the park entrance) - along with everyone else. Don't take photographs now. Resist and head directly to the turnstiles. Make your way down to the end of Main Street U.S.A. and wait for that rope drop.

2- Go straight to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
The layout of the park is different than the Stateside ones in this regard. Frontierland is found in the same place as Adventureland in the States. Turn directly to your left from the hub, walk through the Fort and turn right. Follow the crowd the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. If there's no line for a Fast Pass, get one for later- and then get in line for the most popular attraction in the park. Trust me, you'll want to do it again. Beginning your journey by traveling under the river to the mountain is a unique thrill all its own.

3- Proceed to the Fantasyland dark rides of your choice.
Other than the language differences, these attractions are newer versions of the beloved classics but mostly the same. In the case of Peter Pan's Flight, there is a larger seating capacity. Snow White is told in German and Pinocchio in Italian, so unless you're from Florida or just have to see these attractions for yourself, these are generally ok to skip. If you're okay with bypassing the dark rides, spend the time elsewhere. Save the castle for the busy part of the day (approximately 1-5pm), but make sure to explore its depths and heights, see the dragon in the dungeon, and discover the secret passageway through Merlin's Shoppe

Actually, there are many attractions which are good choices for the busier part of the day. In addition to the castle, there's Aventure Isle, a combination Swiss Family Treehouse and Neverland version of Tom Sawyer's Island; the Frontierland fort can be explored; Aladdin has his own walk-through attraction; the Nautilus submarine can be toured; and of course, the two interesting arcades which line the backs of both sides of Main Street- the Liberty and Discovery arcades.

4- Indulge in a nice meal.
This is Paris, after all. Even if it is not a coveted seat at Walt's or Aventureland's Blue Lagoon, do take the time to find a restaurant with nice atmosphere. Favorite and cheaper locations include the Hyperion Cafe in Discoveryland and for fish and chips, Toad Hall in Fantasyland. Stop, eat, and people watch. It's a nice rest and will keep you going for the remainder of the day.

5- Keep an eye on Space Mountain.
If you think you've seen it in the States, be prepared for something new. As with most "E Ticket" attractions, they are completely reimagined by the old school top-of-the-line Imagineers. The exterior of the mountain literally shines and watching the cannon shoot off riders into the interior of the mountain never gets boring. The lines will be long all day, but since this is not necessarily a family coaster, the queue length can vary drastically. Whatever you do, make sure you ride this one.

6- Notice the details. They're everywhere.
The park itself is the ultimate "E Ticket"

7- Do not park hop.
Even with the inclusion of the new Ratatouille ride, the Walt Disney Studios park is just not worth your time. The park was created by a different design team with a different goal, and it shows. Especially with only one day, stay in the beautiful Disneyland Paris. Tower of Terror is the California version and 85% of the park looks like the original Hollywood Backlot section of California Adventure 1.0- in other words, very ugly. 

8- Watch the Nighttime show.

9- Stay until the park closes.

10- Lodge at Val d'Europe.

May 26, 2015

Disneyland's Only A Theme Park

Recently, I was helping my daughter and son-in-law plan their first trip to Disneyland. They are traveling during the 60th Anniversary and in, potentially, the busiest time of the year, Christmas aside. 

We discussed possible trip plans, the best ways for first time visitors to see the most they can. Indy first or Space Mountain? How to do Star Tours without much of a wait. When to ride Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean. What if they don't want to arrive at opening or stay late at night? Fast Pass, single rider lines, the special Paint the Night parade, fireworks, best and worst restaurant options, etc. On and on.

And it hit me again: Disneyland is just a theme park- nothing more but nothing less than a slice of Americana now long gone, designed in a world where patriotism and pride in country was still important. In the big scope of things, compared to starving children, ongoing executions of Christians in the Middle East and Africa, tales of continued corporate greed and graft, and even more important things like what happens after life on this earth, it's only a theme park. It's an enjoyable diversion, a hobby, a sidebar to life, not life itself. It's good for me to have my views checked again and again, keeping things in perspective.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 25, 2015

For God and Country

Thank you to all the veterans who gave their lives in service to our country. And God bless the families impacted by the loss. This ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our freedom is something I do not take for granted.

May 23, 2015

Top Ten Insights: Most Popular Blog Articles- Disney and More

With Disneyland's 60th Anniversary quickly approaching and the kick off to the summer celebration happening yesterday, I thought I'd take a look and see what articles on this blog had the most reads. I expected the results to be all Disney- and some were- but many were not. So here are the Top Ten Insights read on this blog - just ten among the almost 2,000 posts since I began writing over seven years ago:

Tangled Review

Frozen may be the reigning film among Disney fans of late, but back when Tangled was released, many viewers loved the film, especially the lantern scene. Here's my look at a great Disney animated film, one which opened the door for more to come.

Disney Park Countdown

I've been blessed to travel a bit around the world, and in the course of business and pleasure travel, I've gotten to experience Disneyland Paris in three different decades and in three different seasons. When I thought about my travels to many Disney parks, I started out writing a Top Ten Disney Park list of my own. The most popular is this post on the French Magic Kingdom. It's a park that is truly the "Theme Park as a Work of Art". Worth the read to see one of Imagineering's greatest pieces. 

The 650lb. Virgin and Chris Powell

This one surprised me. So many people love reading about the journey of David Smith (the virgin) and his rescuer / friend  / celebrity Chris Powell. The initial television show was riveting. The transformation of David into someone new and back again is a compelling story worth thinking about. Two parts.
Part One
Part Two

Thirty Years Without Karen Carpenter

It's somewhat ironic that the next popular article is about a beloved singer than suffered and died from anorexia, Karen Carpenter. Long my favorite songstress, I wrote this piece when she had been gone for way too long. Her legacy lives on- and it lives on in this blog as well. Over the years, I've reviewed each of her albums as part of Carpenters and also her solo disc, and I'm in process of adding new images, advertising pieces, and taking a fresh look at each disc. There's also plenty of one off posts with rarely seen photographs and more. Very befitting the 20th Century's most gifted female vocalist.

Disneyland Attraction Posters

It's taken me years to gather this collection! I've listed each individual post so the reader can search by each separate Disney land. Make sure to click on each image for a very large version. The combination of history and pieces of art make for a fascinating read.

Main Street U.S.A.
New Orleans Square
Critter Country

Amazing Disappearing Disney

I hate corporate politics and big government where folks in charge think they have the right to pull a fast one over investors, citizens, and people they deem "smaller" than themselves. Here's a link to an article that has been pulled from the media. Robert Iger, head of the Walt Disney Company, was challenged by the writer regarding the Company's handling of their first theme park in Mainland China, Shanghai Disneyland. I'm proud to repost the piece as a protest to this kind of manipulation. Enjoy- and pass it on.

Jesus Scum of All

Let me say it upfront: This may be considered a controversial article. Jesus is the one person who most changed the history of man, so it may be considered blasphemous to depict him this way. If this article seem unbalanced to you, search the blog for other pieces under his name. Discover who he is for yourself.

Disney Dark Rides

For all the hits on this piece, I'm ashamed to say that right now, it is the only piece in the series. These small Fantasyland rides have a huge fan base (and I'm one of them). I'll get to finishing my post on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride one day, but for now, here's an in-depth look at Peter Pan's Flight- pre 60th anniversary upgrade.


Three complete articles but also several other random pieces of concept art to be found throughout the blog. Just do a quick search.
This should have and could have been Anaheim's second Disney theme park in California. That is before the suits got scared and gave guests the cheap California Adventure. The Westcot park would have taken the best of Epcot, added the necessary fixes for better show and flow and brought new elements all its own. A grand and beautiful but missed opportunity. Thanks, Michael Eisner. You did some fantastic things in your first decade but clearly lost it in the second half.
Original Plan 

Dubai The New Pleasure Island

The eye-catching photo aside, this was another post that surprise me by its ongoing popularity. Dubai Disneyland could have been a reality (and yes, I pulled the concept art I had, but it's still out there on the web), but the rest of the country like all others, has a steamy backside that is rarely told. 

These articles are just by the numbers, but runners up in the Disney category include my look at Space Mountains all over the world, a similar look at Indiana Jones attractions, an anniversary tribute to Pirates of the Caribbean, the 25 year history of the Disney Hollywood Studios theme park, the compelling story of the creation and evolution of Disney's Animal Kingdom, and the concept art behind California Adventure 1.0 and its ongoing transformation into a Disney quality theme park. Each has tons of concept art by the brilliant but often hands tied Disney Imagineers.

Beyond Disney, there's album reviews and histories of popular music, trip reports of visits to Europe, California and more, and various odds and ends. It's been a pleasure. Thank you for reading!

May 22, 2015

Original Disneyland Submarine Voyage Concept Art

Just a quick Friday post as we head into the weekend...

This piece of concept art for Disneyland's Submarine Voyage is found as part of a preview of coming attractions page at the back of a late 1950's souvenir guide. Although it's a bit faded, a little photoshop work brings the colors closer to its original shades.

I do enjoy what was done to save the subs from extinction- meaning that Finding Nemo overlay spearheaded by Imagineer Tony Baxter- but I'll be quick to confess that the original voyage through liquid space aboard the Nautilus was much more mysterious and engaging. Do any of you out there remember it? Hopefully, there will be more art on display at the Innoventions building soon...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 20, 2015

Chinese Wisdom

With all the talk of the opening of the Shanghai Disney Store and the soon opening of Disneyland itself, here's a little wisdom from the other side of the world:

"Life is just a field of newly fallen snow, and where you choose to walk, every step will show."

May 18, 2015

First Look Inside Shanghai Disney Store

It may be large and it may be generic, but it is the first Mainland China Disney Store! These photos show exactly what citizens of Shanghai can expect when they first walk in.

Of course, regardless of the merchandise purchased, the goal is two-fold: 

1- Help the Chinese recognize the Disney characters and get acclimated to the "Disney Brand" and "Disney Lifestyle".
2- Guarantee a huge perpetual turnout to the Shanghai Disneyland park.

Well, regardless of the pitfalls and many shortcomings of the way the Disney Company has handled itself, (read that infamous article here), it is a beginning.

Disney's Unbuilt Urban Entertainment Center

Unbuilt Disney attractions are like urban legends. They grow in scope and potential as the years go by. Some earn their reputations and actually exceed them. This category includes Imagineer Tony Baxter's unbuilt Discovery Bay for Disneyland and Marc Davis' epic Thunder Mesa which included the now legendary Western River Expedition for Florida's Magic Kingdom. Others in this realm are Beastly Kingdom at Disney's Animal Kingdom and of course Westcot, the proposed second park for Anaheim before the suits cheaped out with California Adventure 1.0. (You can find many posts on these attractions with concept art on this blog.)

Smaller projects that have been abandoned are less celebrated but perhaps carry just as big an impact had they been built. In this category we sadly find Disney's "Urban Entertainment Centers". These regional centers were designed to offer a taste of Disney parks. Just enough to get folks took to book that longer extended vacation to Walt Disney World. Imagine a building of several stories, perhaps 5-7 of them, filled with unique dining experiences, shopping aplenty, and a couple of smaller scale but still Disney quality impressive attractions. A Downtown Disney of sorts, if you will.

This very real, fairly advanced idea was discarded around 2008. Yet, as you can see from the art above, it could have been an impressive projects that would have broadened the Disney experience across the country. Perhaps the failure of Club Disney, their beautifully designed but discarded kid's entertainment center, (we had one in Denver), led the Disney suits to dropping this Urban Entertainment Center. Too bad. Would have been a great way to spend an evening.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 17, 2015

Torn Between Worlds

In a new season where I find myself torn between two worlds: the one I live in most of the time and the one I live in temporarily as I am working. The problem is, having a new job at home means trying to fit in all over again. It's not something easy to do, particularly in a world that is already established with little room for anyone new. It's part of having two jobs that are heavy in the emotional spectrum of life; jobs where you serve others but also must fit in to be produce good results. The tension is choosing to persist in both- one, because I feel drawn to both worlds, and two, because I see no way around the tension between them. It's living out the life of faith in a new way. Many times, I need the world of the Apostle Paul to remind me that I am actually a citizen of a third world: one which belongs to God and that this earth is my temporary home. The struggle remains because how I live my life here and who I impact has eternal results. Not exists in a vacuum. It's doesn't work that easy in my life. Or in yours.

May 16, 2015

Grizzly Peak Airfield Opens

I'll cut to the chase: The new Grizzly Peak Airfield looks terrific! California Adventure's original Condor Flats has been rethemed into a beautiful expansion of land that now connects Soarin' Over California to the rest of the wilderness. With Grizzly River Rapids nearby, the whole transformation of the area just settles so well.

The photos are not mine- and are labeled unknown- but go right to this link at MiceAge for a few pictures.

If you're looking for a "Minty Fresh" update, head over to Magic Eye. As always, Mint Crocodile's photo essay is one of the best on the web! Enjoy!

May 15, 2015

Tomorrowland 1966 Map

This is an absolute kick! Picture if you will what Disneyland's world of the future looked like prior to the grand opening of the incredible 1967 revisioning. Tomorrowland was quite a spectacular blend of the "now" and the future that would be. The beloved and often malfunctioning Flying Saucers was found here, as was the Matterhorn Bobsleds, which flipped back and forth over the years between being in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland

A closer look reveals two Autopias, the Douglas Rocket to the Moon, plus a few free exhibits. It is interesting to note that ticket designations are not found on this page. It's something they would add later, making even easier for guests to use the guidebook land by land and decide how to spend those precious coupons.

The most interesting fact of all to be noticed is that the buildings which form the basic entrance of Tomorrowland have remained in place since the opening in 1955. From Monsanto's original Hall of Chemistry on to Adventure Thru Inner Space to Star Tours v1 and v2, the building structures have endured. Same story across the way with the space moving from its early use onto America the Beautiful to the entry for Rocket Rods and now Buzz Lightyear's home. 

Count me in the group that says it's time to totally re-Imagineer the land. What would you design for it?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 14, 2015

For Men Only: Trapped by Porn

Pornography, masturbation, adultery. Huge problems for men in America- and actually, all over the world. Getting these issues under control is of much importance. Let me explain. It's an issue worth addressing over and over.

Awhile ago I was asked to speak at a gathering of men. Once we got through the question and answer period, I left the crowd with a very unpopular conclusion: We are ineffective and broken people due to our addictions and compulsions, abdication of our responsibilities, and how we disrespect each other. Including the women in our lives and the women in other men's lives.  As a sideline, let me ask: Fathers, husbands, men- would you want your wife, daughter or sister uncovering it all for a spread in a men's magazine? Why not?

Addressing the men, I was pretty direct. Pornography and masturbation, and of course, adultery, are destructive for married men and damaging to their relationships. Women in our world have much power and control over us by how they present themselves. Look at the internet and google Kim Kardashian and her unfortunate display of her backside for all the world to see. It brings us down and takes our minds off truly loving our spouse and also off more constructive pursuits. 

It doesn't take rocket science or a degree in theology to understand this. If a man is busy pleasing himself, cheating on his spouse, or viewing other undressed in the process, certainly his own wife becomes less necessary and less attractive in his eyes. No real woman can compare to the airbrushed images found on line or in magazines... or the ones in our minds. Additionally, very few wives are willing subjects to a game where every fantasy is fulfilled for her spouse while she disregards her own desires or dignity.

Instead of the focus on building a good and healthy relationship, many men take the easy way out instead of being truthful with their spouse about their needs. Preferring immediate pleasure all the while creating a prison of their own making, men become ensnared without intending to do so. No man I know wants to admit this, yet privately in my office, many have spoken of this trap they cannot seem to break free from. Ultimately this self destructive cycle creates hopelessness, bondage, and a sense of being of little worth.

In a case of "What comes first, the chicken or the egg?", many men begin to abdicate responsibilities at home. The current state of our communities verifies this to be true. There is an epidemic of single and divorced mothers with children, sometimes from multiple men, who have abandoned them. While many men hold firm to the commitments made at the marriage altar, just as many are choosing lives of selfishness, succumbing to the desire to remain teenagers forever. Affairs, addictions to sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, and many other things show that a life of self-centeredness and ambition is replacing the sacrifice needed for enduring marriages and healthy families. We must break free and change the cycle!

Here's the bottom line: Jesus promised freedom- but only to those who were willing to give up their lives for His purposes. This means serving the people around them by reflecting God heart and doing so from a heart that realizes its state of being lost without its creator as focus.

Marriage is the ultimate expression of God's love for his true followers. Jesus himself said he would never leave us or forsake us. In the book to the Ephesians in chapter five, the Apostle Paul clearly explains marriage is the real life expression of the bond between Jesus and those who are devoted to loving and pursuing Him. No wonder the American Christian church is weak! We look just like the world around us, mirroring patterns of selfishness, abuse, bondage and unforgiveness- especially in our marriages.

Is there hope? Of course. Yet the first step is admitting there is a problem. Then, what next? So I ask you, where will you go to get help? The God of the universe who made you and who knows how you are designed is waiting for you to call out to Him. And Jesus will never refuse those who call on His name.

May 13, 2015

Four Generations Once More

All too often these days, it takes a wedding or a funeral to get everyone together in one room. And even though it was a passing this time, my wife and her parents were able to get together for a photograph with our youngest daughter and her two children. Four generations in one room. A pretty rare thing of beauty!

May 12, 2015

More Switzerland and Less Disney

The next phase of our recent trip to Europe will be on the site soon. Or at least I hope so! I've been suffering from a serious bout of writer's block. But when you see my photos and read about our trip to Switzerland and the South of France, you'll be reconsidering that overpriced trip to Walt Disney World and the make believe World Showcase in favor of a real life Fantasyland!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

May 11, 2015

Friends Again

A little tired of the Disney news these days. So, here's a photo that reminds me its absolutely ok to laugh and laugh hard. Thanks Friends

May 10, 2015

Reevaluating Barry Gibb

A great producer and song writer "hidden" within the confines of a top selling pop group. A hit making group that spanned decades. Barry Gibb is just a talented man. That I think that may be news to some of you.

Today as I was listening to a recording of Dionne Warwick's version of the old Ruby and the Romantics pop hit, "Our Day Will Come", I was taken by the arrangement and the background vocals by Barry. Even though her album Heartbreaker was a hit, I had not purchased it during its initial release , nor had I heard her version of the song.

Granted, I was well familiar with the song as it had its last big hit version recorded by Carpenters in 1973. Long a favorite from their smash album Now & Then, Karen's vocal and Richard's piano made for a song just waiting to be released as a single. Of course, it never was.

Beyond Saturday Night Fever and the smash songs from the album, BeeGees hits were appreciated, sometimes really enjoyed, but not always a staple in my collection. Admittedly, I loved two songs by younger brother Andy Gibb: "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" and his later hit "Everlasting Love". They were pop perfection of the addictive candy kind!

Toss in Barbra Streisand's truly stunning Guilty album. Now, I respect her as an artist, can't stand her as a political activist, but thoroughly enjoy this disc, as its associated with so many personal happy memories. Particularly the title song- a duet with producer Barry.

Then there's Olivia Newton-John. So many hit singles that I like, but it was late night radio's "I Can't Help It" with Andy Gibb that kept me mesmerized (along with Ambrosia's smash "Biggest Part of Me") during long late night drives while I delivered bowling leagues sheets to alleys all over Southern California. And who wasn't captivated by "Islands in the Stream"? The Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet was just too catchy to ignore.

In the year 2003, a new artist came to the forefront as we saw Michael BublĂ© cover "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" also ;written by Barry Gibb. The list goes on and on. 

So I say, forgive Barry Gibb and his brothers for the misstep found in their involvement with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and let's give brother Barry the respect he deserves.

May 9, 2015

Hat Box Ghost Reappears- Worth the Wait?

An infamous character once invaded the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. At its opening in 1969 but only lasting for a few weeks,  the Hat Box Ghost returns to the park in time for the 60th Anniversary celebration. The piece of concept art shows what was intended and eventually reappeared. Opening today, guests to New Orleans Square have lined up to see him. Time to see it yourself.

Now, the video, courtesy Inside the Magic:

Is it just me or is this "much ado about nothing"? Don't misunderstand me here. It's the smaller details like this that sets Walt's original kingdom apart from Florida's Magic Kingdom. But it also seems that we fans of Imagineering are suckers for almost anything. Could it be that our rabid excitement over the little thing has kept Disneyland from adding a big budget "E Ticket" since Indiana Jones Adventure back 20 years ago?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Mommy Bloggers

More often than not, I am a little frustrated by the Mommy Bloggers you find on the Disney news sites. Often they are so thrilled with everything - and all the freebies- that the Walt Disney Company throws at them. And why wouldn't they be? The top ones are basically paid promoters of an often poor theme park product. Unfortunately, these paid professionals create a rhythm of less than stellar product as they promote additions to the parks that are cheaper and of lower quality than what we saw in the 1960s and 1990s. All to the pleasure of Disney suits who couldn't care less about the parks unless they are money printing machines.

It's time for Mommy Bloggers of a different breed. And here are two worth your time:

Check these out and drink in something of substance. You'll be glad you did.

May 8, 2015

EPCOT Center's World Key

EPCOT Center's World Key Information System was one of the new- and most user friendly- technologies developed for this new theme park. In conjunction with the Bell System (later renamed AT&T), guests could walk into a large but friendly space and find several kiosks enabling them to make reservations for restaurants at the Walt Disney World property. Under the shadows of Spaceship Earth, this could be done by touching the screen and following the prompts. Should that fail or should a guest need specialized assistance, a Guest Services host would appear and provide further help.

In 1982, these types of technologies were presented in a warm and engaging, yet very future focused, environment. The goal of the Imagineers was to present this Future World portion of the park in a way that was inviting, celebrating the human element of the future and how we would all connect with each other more easily- and for a better life than in the past. All with one little spark and more of creativity and imagination.

Unfortunately, like most good things from the Company's past, this too was bastardized by corporate and personal greed with little vision for the park.  Future World and soon later World Showcase became a place to tie in characters from Disney's latest films, milking that cash cow of animation for all its worth.  

Why do I bemoan what's become of the once elegant EPCOT Center? If you had seen it in its heyday, you'd understand. And if you have not experienced the park that way, you can only imagine what you've missed.

May 7, 2015

No One Means No One

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Our nation is part of a world gone crazy, a world where it is acceptable to hate Jesus but not any other prophet or god. A world where humanism is the order of the day, where groups that are on opposite ends of the political and religious spectrum work together to abolish Christianity from the world scene. 

Ironic in that Jesus says boldly- He alone is the only way to God the Father. He is the Truth, and He is the Life. Jesus said no one would get to an eternal life in heaven without believing in Him and that He alone died on the cross for the sins of man and was resurrected to life.

Jesus was that direct and simple- not because He hated people. But because He loved them and wanted to make the way to forgiveness and heaven clear. He's more than a prophet, more than a good man. He alone is God incarnate- God in the flesh. All who oppose Him will be lost for eternity. That includes you. That includes me. Wake up, America! We've lost our way. 

Pray today for a fresh start with God- pray for our nation and pray for yourself, won't you? No one should be left out from this opportunity to join a nation in prayer.

And now, the prayer from Dr. Jack Graham, representing the National Day of Prayer 2015:

"Heavenly Father,
We come to You in the Name that is above every name—Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Our hearts cry out to You.
Knowing that You are a prayer-answering, faithful God—the One we trust in times like these—we ask that You renew our spirits, revive our churches, and heal our land.
We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us. Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word.
We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You.
Forgive us, and in the power of Your great love, lift us up to live in Your righteousness.
We pray for our beloved nation. May we repent and return to You and be a light to the nations. And we pray for our leaders and ask that You give them wisdom and faith to follow You.
Preserve and protect us, for You are our refuge and only hope.
Deliver us from all fears except to fear You, and may we courageously stand in the Truth that sets us free.
We pray with expectant faith and grateful hearts.
In Jesus’ name, our Savior.

– 2015 National Prayer by Dr. Jack Graham

May 6, 2015

Skull Island: Reign of Kong- Massive Attraction

While Disney again delays announcements for Star Wars Land, Universal Creative comes in with a massive attraction for 2016: Skull Island: Reign of Kong.

Opening in the Summer at the impressive Islands of Adventure, it will become yet another not-to-be-missed attraction in a long series of additions to both parks at Universal Orlando.

Here's the full announcement video (above). Dang, Disney! Time to get going- and you better pray World of Avatar is a huge hit.

(Art copyright Universal Creative.)

May 5, 2015

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo at Epcot

A day to celebrate and relax over a leisurely dinner and a frosty margarita should you choose! There's another way to celebrate, and that is to go to Epcot and visit the World Showcase of the country of Mexico.

My wife and I have always thoroughly enjoyed the Mexico showcase and its incredible mix of shops, restaurants, lively entertainment, historical artifacts, and of course, its main attraction: El Rio del Tiempo / Gran Fiesta Tour. The showcase and the focus of the park has changed considerably since our first visit in 1983. Not always for the better, but there's still quite a bit to enjoy. That is due to the original Imagineering team and their desire to bring the rich culture of each nation to guests.

By the time it opened in 1982, EPCOT Center was designed by the Disney Imagineers to creative a new standard for in theme parks for guests and for themselves. Walt Disney's EPCOT- Creating the New World of Tomorrow by Richard R. Beard details the creation and execution of this World's Fair type park. The first non-Magic Kingdom style playground ever built by the Mouse was full of cutting edge displays, technology used both on stage and off, and Audio-Animatronic shows on level with anything they had ever created in the past.

So, today, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, we'll look at a few pieces of concept art and photos of the splendid Mexico pavilion circa opening year. 

Photo by Mark Taft.
The detail created by those design geniuses was evident as a guest would first look at the beautifully created pyramid before walking inside to explore its treasures. The serpent head, above, shows a bit of the care taken. These heads are positioned quite a bit above the ground level, but there was no skimping on detail at all.

The lakeside view of the area (above) reinforces the fact that the majority of what was to be found was actually discovered within a darkened village inside the pyramid. If you're thinking California's Pirates of the Caribbean and the Blue Bayou here, you've only scratched at the beginning of that they created. The museum portion of the presentation opened up to an enchanting nighttime fiesta, a marketplace filled with sights and sounds pleasing to the eye- and not including the smell associated with a then first class restaurant.

The combination made this pavilion was an easy favorite among all the World Showcase countries represented. The France showcase, although extremely pretty and a close second, housed an admittedly wonderful travelogue. Yet it left us wanting- wanting to experience more. Much more. You cannot do that with a film! 

The quaint central plaza built in the beautiful Colonial style includes shops and a waterfront restaurant. Colorful lanterns hang in the air while mariachis play. We could have easily sat waterside sipping margaritas, making it tempting to stay here all day, but the boats cruising El Rio del Tiempo beckoned us to step aboard a small watercraft.

In contrast to the France showcase, here in Mexico, a different opportunity to explore was realized via that enchanting boat ride through a very mysterious environment. The story is begun rather uniquely. As guests glide along the waters through a Mexican jungle, we enter yet another pyramid as the adventure continues. In this attraction, a first for Disney, the main method for storytelling  was told through the medium of dance.

Photo by Mark Taft.

An enchanting village is contained within the pyramid.
Shades of the Blue Bayou at Disneyland.

From high priests to beautiful exotic dancers performing ancient routines, the opening scenes celebrate authentic Mexican culture with exploiting it; a goal successfully accomplished when the park first opened, later reversed by the Disney suits when it was easier to throw in Disney characters to take advantage of its guests.

Our excursion onto the river is at once peaceful and mysterious. We were so drawn into the story, mesmerized by this new way of telling an ancient story of an ancient culture. We knew so little about the history of Mexico. We came away having learned about and enjoyed every moment of it!

As the cruise continued into other regions depicting Mexican celebrations and modern life, something changed. Everything following the dance paled in comparison. It was as if something was cut short in the execution of the attraction- and in fact, it was. The journey should have been about another 5 minutes loner- on par with Pirates- but budget blowing construction and some fear from the suits cut the plans short. It was a method of delivery that would become all too common in the 21st Century. Fortunately, a lovely and playful song sets us in a joyful mood for the rest of our journey. 

The sweet and inviting theme song rang in our heads! Had we not wanted to move on to the other countries in the Showcase, we would have quickly turned around and ridden again. Not so in the more recent years when the Three Caballeros took over.

From the initial concept art to the final construction, the original Imagineers did an excellent job capturing the culture of our friends south of the border. This helped make Epcot an entirely different experience than visiting the Magic Kingdom. An adult playground with plenty for children to discover.

Unfortunately, recent revisions to the boat ride was a major misstep and an unfortunate foretaste of things to come. The dignity and sophistication imbred into EPCOT Center since its inception has been now replaced by a desire to please a less discerning crowd- and to increase sales of character merchandise at the cash registers. I hate to say it, but The Three Caballeros and their Gran Fiesta Tour helped pave the way for Nemo in the Living Seas, Martin Short in Canada, and eventually the Frozen takeover in Norway. It's no longer about learning culture and more about inserting the Disney brand into the heads of its guests. This trend which must stop if the Walt Disney Company wishes to capture the travel dollar of discriminating and aging adults.

In the meantime, enjoy Cinco de Mayo at Epcot and take time to explore all the cultural experiences offered in World Showcase. At the rate of things, Robert Iger and company seems determined to change the focus of the park and turn it into a money machine of wine and partying... instead of the enticing cultural showcase it once was.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Insomnia Strikes

An ongoing battle wins another round. Perhaps, it is different. Yes, Lord, I'm here. Speak to me if  it is you- and then let me get some sleep...

May 4, 2015

Universal Rocks the Theme Park World While Thrilling Investors

Call it a strategy Disney should adopt...

This article on Universal's success should be ringing a bell in the ears of Robert Iger and company. Disney once thought this way regarding their parks but no longer...

"Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley drove a 33.7 percent year-over-year increase in first-quarter theme-park revenue, which was $651 million. Operating cash flow increased 54.6 percent to $263 million for the division.

At the biggest highlight of all may have been at the theme parks,” Comcast Chief Executive Officer Brian Roberts told analysts Monday morning.

Nearly 80 percent of Orlando visitors chose two-park tickets –the only way guests can ride the Hogwarts Express train between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure next door. Season pass sales, meanwhile, were at an all time high.

Over half of the capital expenditures at Comcast’s NBC Universal division will be directed at theme parks this year. The parks have become an increasingly important part of Comcast’s business – making up 20 to 25 percent of the company’s operating cash flow. The parks are expected to generate more than $1.3 billion in operating cash flow this year.

The company expects to open one new attraction a year at each of the major theme park locations. Comcast also owns Universal Studios in Hollywood."

Wouldn't Disney be smart to think a bit like them?

May 2, 2015

Grizzly Peak Airfield Nearing Completion

At the opening of California Adventure in 2001, there was much to complain about but also bits to like. I fell into both sides of the debate. However, Condor Flats was one of the areas in the park that I really enjoyed. And who couldn't love the amazing Soarin' Over California? It brought this man to tears by the end of it. 

With the transformation of the park into something really worthy of the Disney name, Condor Flats was on the chopping block to be remade into the Grizzly Peak Airfield, effectively increasing the size of the are once known as The Golden State.

Thanks to local fan and photographer Mint Crocodile at the terrific Magic Eye website, we get a glimpse of the almost completed project. Take a look here. It's nearing completion and will be a great addition to an increasingly beautiful second park.

(Photograph copyright Mint Crocodile.)

May 1, 2015

Real Magic

What follows is an absolutely incredible statement by Lee Stoneking as he address the United Nations General Assembly on April 22, 2015. 

In a world where Disney magic is the order of the day, where imaginary superheroes like Avengers dominate the entertainment headlines, and where the atrocities of man against man are everyday news, Mr. Stoneking's words could not be any more timely. Definitely worth your listening time.