August 17, 2015

D23: Thinking It All Through- New Adventures as Old Ones Go Away

In its 4th exposition, this year's D23 convention offered Disney theme park fans some of the most rewarding announcements to date. As expected, the biggest news concerned the building of two massive Star Wars themed lands, one for each of the U.S. resorts. This move was expected as was the announcement of something Toy Story themed and an increased look at Animal Kingdom's Pandora.

Disney itself advertised a gigantic section of the display space would be to hype the incredible looking Shanghai Disneyland. But I did not expect anything for Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Resort or Disneyland Paris. (I was wrong on this part of my pre-opening prediction as there was a brief film showing a piece of the Iron Man Experience for the Hong Kong park. And wrong again, as absolutely nothing was announced for California Adventure.) 

Long ago and far away...Now the Adventure is truly real!

The animation announcements only reinforced what I truly expected from the park's announcement: Disney Intellectual Properties would be the focus for both. I mean, have you ever seen such a slate of films that were so tied to previous hits and popular series? I haven't. Certainly, I think this would eventually lead to burnout, but remember, these days, it seems to be all about stock prices. Hit while the Iron Man is hot.

Honestly, if you look backward, post 1969, almost every addition to Disneyland (and later Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom) were tied into either a company film property or a tried and true earlier Disney attraction. Let's face it, after Walt's death, few folks carried the torch, and it all became about "synergy" long before Michael Eisner made it a mandate. Robert Iger has just made it a company lifestyle.

EPCOT Center was the last real attempt at non-IP imagination. The next park, Disney-MGM Studios, was all about the movie tie-in, helping propel Disney animation and Touchstone films to even greater profitability. The cycle just keeps repeating itself. Now, I think Disney Imagineers cannot even present an original idea as an option for the parks. Nor do the suits apparently think they have any to offer for Stateside parks.

Nonetheless, even though its now mostly all about the sizzle and often less about the substance when it comes to park additions (see Florida's New Fantasyland), D23 does an excellent job at making sure fans leave very excited about what is coming next from the Company they love. This includes fans from Orlando who may have rightly thought the convention was too Disneyland Resort centric in the past. Not so in 2015.

Can Disney really pull it off?

With the biggest announcements for this year, thankfully, Star Wars brings both the substance and the sizzle! 

For California's Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida, 14 acre parcels are being created to provide fans of the epic film series the chance to finally experience a full blown experience. Bringing with them what sounds like not one but two "E Ticket" attractions and a long list of shops, restaurants, and entertainment experiences tied directly to the series of George Lucas' beloved Sci-Fi classics.

Surprisingly, it seems no one in the Disney fan sphere is crying foul when it comes to cloning the new lands (or "planets" as Disney's promotional machine is calling them).

But are they really cloning them, one model for each resort? I have my doubts. The pieces of land set aside in each park seem to be vastly different from each other in shape and configuration even if they remain the same size. This alone may make the layout and the rides themselves different from park to park. In fact, in sunny California, we know the existing Star Tours is in Tomorrowland- which will not be take over by Star Wars Land (or whatever it will be named). Meanwhile, in sunny Florida, the larger version of Star Tours will be absorbed into the expansion and in an entirely different park. All this could easily bring about two vastly unique configurations of acreage with very different placements of the same type attractions, shops, and restaurants. 

Drinks anyone?

Both are guaranteed to feature the two headlining attractions: a chance to control your own Millennium Falcon and another which promises it " puts you in the middle of a climatic battle between the First Order and the Resistance". Throw in a visit to a famous cantina, plenty of unique shopping, and interaction with the planet's inhabitants, well- it will be a Star Wars geek's dream come true. Or at least we hope it will!

I'm totally alright with it taking up a chunk of real estate in a Florida park themed to films, but even though I'm looking forward to it, I feel very differently about an entire land dedicated to one film in Walt Disney's original Magic Kingdom. That said, I am glad to see the suits are freeing up some land for this expansion. They are certainly going to need it in order to accommodate all the growth in park guests. (This makes me think there are big plans for California Adventure to help in that arena, but that's a discussion for another time.)

For now, I'd like to skip what also is coming to the Studios, and discuss the in process Avatar / Pandora themed land coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom

Thanks to Alain Littaye for the great posters.

With a fairly large and detailed model, Disney presented guests of D23 a very nice look at what is planned to open in 2017. The model seemed terrific, but the two supporting exhibits were nothing special. Aside from that promotional travel brochure from Alpha Centauri Expeditions ( ACE ) and their little film creating interest in travel to Pandora. A film that included Imagineer Joe Rohde and Lightstorm's Jon Landau, the former playing himself, and the latter in disguise as a tour operator for the company that takes you to this new and exciting destination. It's a clever piece of promotion played to great effect.

Of course, after all that, then you add in all these really wonderful travel posters. What would a Disney park attraction be without one of these beloved pieces of artwork? My hunch is that in the park, they will be found somewhere in the mess hall, akin to all the smaller set pieces found all through Grizzly Peak Airfield at California Adventure. My second hunch is they will be for sale somewhere as well!

Banking on it being a beauty at night.

If the headlining simulator Flight of Passage attraction isn't your speed, it was confirmed that the boat ride through the jungle forests filled with bioluminescence did make the budgeteers cut. I'm thrilled for this piece! Supposedly titled "Na'vi River Journey",  some Imagineers have said this will be on par with Pirates of the Caribbean in scope, scale, and detail. Whether that's company hype or fact remains to be seen, but the Animal Kingdom park certainly needs more attractions and more classically styled dark rides. (Now, there's the place for a great indoors restaurant a la Blue Bayou!)

Is there more to it than Soarin' 2.0?

 The final beautiful poster for Pandora.

I must admit that this addition to the park has me excited. I was not happy for what I perceived to be the break in theme, and I still believe a different option would have been better, but I am liking what the Company is showing us. The addition has all the earmarks of something pretty groundbreaking. There's no question it will look spectacular in the evening.

Flight of Passage

With the Rivers of Light evening show and all the recent changes and additions to Harambe in Africa, this once neglected park will finally be worthy of an all day excursion- and anoint the night as well. That's probably the piece I am most excited about as the park is stunning when the sun goes down!

All this talk of Avatar and Star Wars (and Marvel) made me think- Why all the Sci-Fi additions to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and other Disney parks? Is this the last bastion of creativity and fantasy? Do the suits forget how to make compelling movies or are they just reflecting the tastes of our world- a world that is looking for and hoping for something far better than what we have? I think so. And I hope they find it and fast. 

Nice way to add some deeper story and a growing fan base to "classic" Magic Kingdom thought.

One minor addition we all knew was eventually coming to the Magic Kingdom was the addition of a Jungle Cruise themed restaurant. I really enjoy it when the Imagineers layer on the story, adding a layer of depth to the theme park experience. In this case, it's a tie in to the S.E.A. private club found first at Tokyo Disney Sea, then Hong Kong Disneyland, and soon in Shanghai. Could it be the Disneyland in California and Paris are not far behind? I'd love to see a reopening of the classic Tahitian Terrace at Walt's park, but I'd certainly opt for something different and great.

The Toy Story gang's all here.

Back to the Studios. In addition to the new Star Wars land at (the soon to be renamed) Disney's Hollywood Studios additional announcement was the kid friendly Pixar themed Toy Story Land.

I'd say the crowd reaction was mixed. The similarly styled land in Paris seems a desperate afterthought. Although it seems to present better in Hong Kong Disneyland, there's no denying the land is populated by dressed up rides found in local state fairs and carnivals.

Will a Slinky Dog coaster redeem a troubled concept?

The reality that something like this was coming to the Florida park most in need of re-Imagineering was not a surprise to those in the know. But the content seemed to be! With a fleshed out palette of seemingly unique restaurants (this time with a real Pizza Planet please!) and space for more additions in a highly themed land, Toy Story Play Land at least has some real atmosphere and family friendly attractions going for it. Imagineer Kathy Magnum says it will be as richly themed as California Adventure's Cars Land, but the concept art seems to deny it.

How about a rethemed Mater's Junkyard Jamboree?

Couple of questions: Is "shrinking down to the size of a toy" the new "something goes horribly wrong" concept so many attractions in the 80's seemed to be based upon? I hope not. Also, where is the Monsters Inc. coaster? Some think it will be announced later as part of another look at Streets of America. That would be nice.

Regardless of its faults, this park needs much more than theater shows. It needs real attractions for the whole family. Certainly an 11 acre Play Land and a 14 acre Star Wars land are not all the company has planned. There's room and time for much more to come. Let's hope this Phase Two happens- and would somebody please tell the Imagineers that the great One Man's Dream attraction needs to resurface? If not in the Studios (and wouldn't someplace on Hollywood Blvd. be perfect for it?), then have the class to move it to the Magic Kingdom.

By the way, a big Thank You to everyone who covered D23! This landlocked Denverite couldn't make it to Anaheim, so I relied on many, many great sites to keep me up to date.

Speaking of staying covered in up to date news, it's time for me to take a break. Between two jobs that place me on three continents, my marriage, four children, and eight grandchildren, I just cannot keep up with it all. When I began this blog seven years ago, I sensed it was a direction I was to take. Now, I sense its time to let it go- at least for a season. 

I've been blessed by your continued readership, comments, and enthusiasm for the site. I'll pop in from time to time when I've got something to say or really have a desire to write a story. There's almost 50 articles in a partially completed state, and many more I wanted to but never completed. 

As I would when saying goodbye to other friends, let me close with a prayer: "Lord Jesus, I thank you for the gift of time together and the friendships here. I pray that we would grow to love you more and more and share you with others. We're in a world that is slipping away, and we know there is no one like you. No one else could ever fully pay for the price of our sin! We thank you for your gift of death on the cross and that you rose again to life- giving all of us Life Again to those who would believe and turn toward you. Bless my friends! In your Name Jesus. Amen."

(All art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 14, 2015

Disney Odds and Ends - D23 Edition and More

There's surprisingly a lot going on in the Disney news world these days, but not too much of it rattles fans stateside- that is until D23 comes along today. 

Just for a little fun, I thought I'd spit out my predictions in great anticipation of D23's announcements for the theme parks.

(By the way, why this photo above for D23? Just a reminder that the best plans of men who work for the mouse get changed all the time.) 

Darth Vader and friends coming to a new and expanded location.

Mouse on the Web: Sadly, Al Lutz has gone missing, and his once powerful MiceChat / MiceAge has almost morphed into just another fan site- almost. They've brought some gusto back to the game with their latest update, however! As sure as the Second Coming of Christ, you can bet Disney suits will be doing something huge and significant with their stellar Star Wars property- at least at my beloved Disneyland for now. (It does leave Tomorrowland a thematic mess, however.) It would be nice to feel assured of the same quality coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios/Adventure, but given the recent track record, I have my doubts. Prove me wrong, Disney! And please finish the work before 2021.

Spiderman and more coming to California Adventure.

Marvel, however, makes perfect sense on the West Coast (perhaps not in theme at California Adventure), since the suits are under contract to forbidding anything with the Super Heroes in Florida. Imagine a really compelling new Spider-Man attraction, one so good that it just might discourage folks from going to Islands of Adventure in Florida- that is, if that pesky Harry Potter went away. Anyway, expect Marvel at California Adventure in a big way. Even though it is out of theme in my mind, I help it is excellently done. Well, at least this leaves the space for the Third Park free for a brand new concept.

Close by on the web, Mouse Info remains a fun place to visit with& WDWMagic being the place to go for the inside scoop on Walt Disney World. Alain Littaye still rocks on Disney and More, and my little boutique blog Insights and Sounds continues on doing its own thing. I know these guys will all be bringing us great stuff in the days ahead. Can't wait and Thank you!

Animal Kingdom: Yes, the big news out in the lushest Disney park ever built is Avatar land / World of Pandora. That fun website Da Mouse was the first one to really hit the nail on the head and identify it as a "quiet transformation" on the scale that the parks in Florida have not seen that often. Moving of the Lion King show, creating an expanded Harambe in a couple of areas, changes to the Tree of Life and to Discovery Island. Lots of construction- and perhaps even a few things we know nothing about. Of course Rivers of Light is scheduled to open sometime next year. I go back and forth on Pandora. Sure, it will look cool- but will it have something unique that really is a compelling attraction or two? Doubtful. I'm kind of over simulators, Soarin' aside. But the Disney suits have lots of prove after their big push for the project coming off their loss of Harry Potter to Universal. All said, Animal Kingdom has some of the best potential to be a powerhouse of a theme park since Tokyo Disney Sea. We'll see.

China, China, and more China!

Disney's (Disastrous) Hollywood Studios: With Star Wars certain and Pixar expansion a necessity, this park will be the one to watch in the year ahead. Closures abound in preparation for the future. Magic Kingdom has had its big splash in New Fantasyland, and Epcot is being ignored for now. The big budget almost guarantees a relaunch a la Disney California Adventure, but unless the suits allow the Imagineers to do it up big time, the park will become one where folks talk about "what could have been". Not a good thing- unless you're Universal Orlando. Many see Robert Iger as a man who cares most about stock value versus great product. When will he finally see real quality and real investment bring great results? Toy Story Playland? Been there, done that. It's time for something new instead of another rehash from overseas.

Beautiful, yes!

Shanghai Disneyland: Speaking of Iger, the plans for Mainland China's Disney park look great. Many unique aspects and that Tron coaster than should have come to the States. My bet is there's a few more pieces of concept art and some great models. Should be fun to hear what the Imagineers have to say abut it all. Expect nothing political, though.

The one that got away!

Frontierland Expansion for Florida: This one will be on hold for a couple of years. I'm sure something will happen in the Magic Kingdom for its 50th, (not that they need a new draw for THIS park), but the plans will stay wrapped up. Unless a miracle happens, long time park fans can kiss any version of Western River Expedition goodbye. It's too bad- this could be a great way to honor Walt Disney World's story- and Imagineer Marc Davis- and build that dedicated fan base similar to that of Disneyland. Instead, I fully expect a toon-based attraction.

Do you want this in your park or the truncated version below?

What won't we see at D23? Anything Frozen for Tokyo Disneyland or even the slightest peek at plans for their new Fantasyland expansion. The suits will never reveal so clearly why the Asia parks are the ones to get most all the great stuff while the States can sometimes get knockoffs and second rate versions of what's built overseas. 

Fast, quick and easy.

Would you want your U.S. fans to compare what's coming to Epcot vs. what the Imagineers are doing with their biggest hit in Tokyo? I didn't think so.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 13, 2015

Disney Park Enhancements: Sometimes Bigger Is Better

We're getting close to D23 now, aren't we? And if you're like me, you can't wait to hear all about the upcoming changes to the theme parks! But I remember a time when I was a kid, and Walt Disney World was on the horizon. In that pre-internet season, a fan had to rely on combing magazines and newspapers for any tidbit of information.

The Great Ceremonial House, the building which was to hold the Enchanted Tiki Birds/Tiki Room, and the enormous Cinderella Castle gave me a slight indication of the grand scale with which the eastern Magic Kingdom would be constructed. So different and dazzling compared to the smaller and more cozy scale of Disneyland. I couldn't wait to see it in person!

There's just something about an old school attraction redone for a new kingdom that thrills a long time fan. Be it Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris, to reimagine an old classic just brings a sense of great anticipation to me. A fresh promise of classic aspects of the park viewed through a news lens. Mystic Manor in Hong Kong. A new take on Tower of Terror. (OK, we'll give them a pass on that last one.)

Sometimes the thrills come from looking at an entire kingdom in a brand new way: The re-Imagineering of Adventureland at Shanghai Disneyland. The certain to be magnificent Tron Light Cycles

Often the biggest rushes of excitement are derived from the largest construction projects: Everest at Animal Kingdom, Cars Land at California Adventure- and I hope, Avatarland /Pandora and Star Wars.  What will they premier this weekend? We'll know soon enough... and come back tomorrow for one last look at what the future may hold.

(Concept art copyright Walt Disney Company.)

August 12, 2015

Hidden Gems

The last couple of weeks, I have been working on a little project to enhance the blog.  I've been inserting special posts with pieces of Disney's great Imagineering concept art, photos, and other odds and ends throughout the 7 years worth of posts. Even more posts added to those published today.

If you dig a bit and do some exploring, you'll certainly find some gems.  Have fun!

The Littlest Mountain Man

All of three years old and already handling the ropes course! What a brave little soul- the littlest mountain man ever!

Persian Resort Meets Magic Kingdom

Just because... a piece of concept art showing the unbuilt Persian Resort at Walt Disney World. And look at that version of Space Mountain, would you?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Looking for Virgin Skin

Looking for some virgin skin? I really wasn't at first, but eventually, I couldn't help myself. But over time, it just became something I couldn't help but do. Most men I know have probably gotten into it too at times.

I will say it went from a fairly minor curiosity and grew from there. And it kind of got out of control.

Before you jump to any conclusions, it's important that I give a bit of explanation to my actions... and how I got entangled in its snare.
You see, this concerned me as I know "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."  (Hebrews 4:13)

We were out at the Denver Zoo (you can see Sunday's post for more details), and being summertime, and an extremely hot day at that, I couldn't help but see so much skin. 

Everywhere. I expected it, but I was overwhelmed by it all in one aspect.

Now I'm pretty modest, but I'm no prude. But I also found myself looking- I mean really looking all around me. Taking it all in.

What I discovered surprised me.

As I looked around, I saw it everywhere. White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, any combination- it didn't matter. Young, old, and all ages. Flabby, slender, fat, in shape, steroid enhanced, obese, and everything in between. Clean cut to grungy; lots of hair, no hair and every style and color imaginable, it was just skin, skin, and more skin.

Men and women alike had filled their arms, legs, necks, chests, backsides, and faces with tattoos of all types. There was ink everywhere I looked. Everything from delicate stars on women's faces to initials on necks and foreheads, tears from eyes (yes, I know what that means), to the whole plethora of skulls, naked women, butterflies, semi-colons. I saw swirls of thorns, beautiful roses and even ivy adorning women's cleavage, inner thighs, and so much more.

As with my youngest son, some tattoos had religious references or imagery- some even evil or demonic looking. Some ink was cultural or nationalistic. (He has four tattoos, including a giant American flag running down his forearm!) Some have favorite sayings or layers upon layers of artwork. Much was very beautiful as far as being art. Some was poorly done and clearly even self-performed.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I would never begrudge anyone having themselves inked if they really wanted. But where was all the untouched God-given beauty that comes from naturally tinted virgin skin? It's disappearing so fast as folks continue to advertise their personal priorities, tastes, and beliefs by tattooing themselves in any space available on their body.

Those of us with virgin skin are becoming rarer and rarer. Maybe we should start a revolution. Can any human artist do anything to improve on what God Himself has created? We're each unique and beautiful in our own way, aren't we? Perhaps it's time to start a new trend...

August 10, 2015

Old Polynesian Village Concept Art

Found in one of my old Walt Disney World pictorial souvenir books is this old piece of art for the Polynesian Village Resort. It's quite a nice item even if the colors are a little funky- even for 1971. 

Although we have not been able to stay there so far, it has remained the one location in the World that would be my first preference if price were not an issue to be considered. My hunch tells me I'll miss the old lobby and its majestic waterfall. It also indicates I'll probably really like Trader Sam's Grog Grotto- poor name aside.

Here's a drink (tropical of course, including umbrella!) to the old days at Walt Disney World. A toast to simpler times.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.) 

August 9, 2015

Legoland Zoo

As documented in previous posts, I've mentioned with a fair amount of enthusiasm how terrific the changes have been at the Denver Zoo. It's almost become an entirely new experience compared to the very humbled and dated environment in the 1980s.

From the newer Africa section and Elephant environments to the really beautiful entry area and more, the Zoo is becoming a class act. The icing on the cake is the incredible lion exhibit right at he front of the park. Imagine being able to step off Disney's Animal Kingdom Kilimanjaro Safari right in the midst of the African veldt. That's just how good this section is! Makes for quite a splashy "first act" for the Zoo.

Today's visit was equally impressive with the Lego animals scattered throughout the park. The lion was impressive as was the snow leopard, but even the smaller woodland creatures native to Colorado made an appearance.

Parkside, there's a simple merry-go-round and a small train ride, so nothing too grand at all. It's really too bad! If the Zoo tossed in a few great theme park rides- including a rollercoaster- and some musical entertainment, the Denver Zoo would almost be as good as Disney's Animal Kingdom and at a fraction of the admission price.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

August 8, 2015

Far Side Favorites

Artist and satirist Gary Larson amazed readers with his Far Side comic. I have a few favorites, but this one seems to strike the right chord today. Ever have one of those days?

(Copyright Gary Larson.)

August 7, 2015

Imagineer Joe Rohde at Aulani

Imagineer extraordinaire Joe Rohde enjoying his personal cup of joe at Disney's Aulani Resort in Hawaii. The man is an incredible artist and lover of nature- and it shows in his work. Be it Disney's Animal Kingdom- his masterpiece- or the Hawaiian resort, the guy just intuitively knows how to translate the natural and exotic into the commercial.

My friend Len Yokoyama captured these shots of Joe back during Aulani's opening. Thanks, Len, for sharing them with us!

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)

August 6, 2015

Men of the Skull and Crossbones

From the 1970 issue of Vacationland magazine comes this full page ad celebrating the success of Pirates of the Caribbean at the beautiful New Orleans Square in Disneyland. From the now defunct but very great Vintage Disneyland Tickets.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 5, 2015

Making a Splash in Tokyo

While I'm busy wasting my time today, I ran across this great but bizarre piece of concept art for Tokyo Disneyland's Splash Mountain. (It's great on a small scale but even better when you click on it to enlarge it.)

This strange piece is actually wonderful in detail. I mean, how often do you see Imagineering concept art that places the object in the Autumn season? This little slice of Critter Country in Japan is just another reminder of how every little thing is so well cared for in the Land of the Rising Sun. Much more than in Florida and even California! Don't believe me? Look up a ride video for Splash Mountain in Tokyo. Every effect works, the attraction seems freshly painted, and it all works just so. Almost as if Walt Disney himself was around to make sure.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 3, 2015

Top Ten Things I Miss From Epcot

Whenever I'm asked about the Disney parks in Florida, it is pretty clear from the start that I just love Epcot. There's a grandeur and elegance about the place that is unmatched by the other three theme parks on the property. Granted, its much more character filled, and therefore a less refined cultural experience than it was in its early years, but the place still packs a punch even seasoned guests do not expect. It is always our only guaranteed two-day park. 

Epcot's just so different than anything that's been done before or after- and it will probably never be built again in any form. Not even Westcot, once planned for California or another version of the park proposed in the early stages for EuroDisneyland. (I've got that piece of concept art somewhere on the blog, but I just can't find it!)

So, in contemporary manner, as I did with Disneyland Paris a few years ago, here are the Top Ten Things I Miss From Epcot. I'll start with Number Ten and work my way to Number One.

Always a wow!

Number Ten-   We always try to enter the park by taking the monorail instead of driving to the parking lot. Taking the monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center to the park entrance, a ride on this really shows how incredibly large Walt Disney World is- and the journey is even more spectacular because the monorail offers a sneak preview of the park. Especially enticing is seeing World Showcase and the glistening lagoon. Proving once again that a terrific and much loved theme park doesn't have to have a castle- or be stuffed with characters.

A Mickey Bar puts a smile on our face- and so would a re-Imagined Journey Into Imagination!

Number Nine-  Mickey Bars! It's a tradition to take a break and feast on the Disney World equivalent of a Dove Ice Cream Bar. We stroll the park and take in the sights while we take a break. It is worth the extra minutes to not rush around from one attraction to the next and just enjoy what we see. (True, there are fewer fresh or compelling attractions for the whole family than there used to be.) This is something we have learned over the years. Even though we do not go to Walt Disney World often anymore- due to the lack of continual investment in the new and terrific for the last decade or so- interestingly, this quiet approach to touring has never led us to not experience any attraction on our must-do list. And our Florida vacation is much more enjoyable.

Lines are never this short in the morning for Spaceship Earth.

Number Eight-  Dusk to night. Obviously, this is when World Showcase really displays its charms. The pace slows, the crowds stop for dinner, and the entire park takes on a very romantic feel. But Future World even has its charms in the evening... specifically shorter waits in line and a chance to see the park as it used to be in its heyday. It's much easier to mentally block out the character overlays in the dark when the stirring original music is not blocked out by the noise of the crowd.

A man and his cars. An originally American love affair.

Number Seven- Discovering the unexpected delights you forgot were at the park. Whether its checking out the cars after riding Test Track, the shopping in China, learning about food production in the Land, or the museum quality presentations found all through World Showcase, there's always something fun to rediscover. Proving once again, you can have a great Disney park experience in an adult environment without the day being full of character meals and other such diversions from animated films.

"Just make believe... ". Sing it with me. You now you want to!

Number Six-   Listening to the Land. One of our earliest and favorite Epcot experiences and memories was in 1983 eating at the wonderful Good Turn Restaurant. Of course, like the restaurant itself, The Land has changed many times, for better and for worse. Perhaps it is the last place in the park that still has a bit of that old school feel and focus of the optimism built into the park at opening. Slightly out of place, but Soarin' is a new favorite. I was not the biggest fan of Kitchen Kabaret, but the rest of the attraction filled greenhouse was a delight. Back then, it seemed every Future World pavilion was worth at least a two hour visit, sometimes more. 

One day I will see the Great Wall!

Number Five-   Something about the wonders of China that draws me in. I love the food, the gardens, the entertainment, the shopping, and the people I've met who staff the pavilion. The film is still wonderful, and the museum has hosted some incredible pieces. Serene and exciting at the same time. And no sign of Mulan... yet. Thankfully.

The world in a day.

Number Four- Always loved the "permanent World's Fair" aspect of Epcot. To be able to "travel" from one end of the globe to another is something that gives this park its unique appeal. Unlike Animal Kingdom and its focus on the wildlife, World Showcase emphasizes the human element, the culture's art, heritage, and accomplishments. One of the greatest misunderstandings of the drawing power of this park is reflected in the Disney Company Suits continual neglect of adding additional countries in World Showcase. They really do not understand that unlike those on their board with relatively unlimited resources, international travel is still not all that available to many guests. Just the headcount for the Food and Wine Festival ought to give them a clue.

Where do I board El Rio del Tiempo?

Number Three-   Nighttime in Mexico at noon. This used to be my favorite country in all of Epcot. Before the character invasion. Eating waterside. Hearing the sounds of the mariachi band, right before cruising off into the unknown and the mysterious land of Ancient Mexico. The whole place just hit the right notes, treating the host country with respect and cultural reverence. Why oh why, must the countries of World Showcase become a character showcase and lose its initial charm and elegance? Catering to the kids and the parents who cannot say "No" to them? Oh well. That was then, this is now.

Ooh, la la indeed!

Number Two-   Impressions of France. The whole pavilion actually. Having been blessed to travel to various regions of the country over the years, it is always a pleasure to come to this area whenever I am continentally challenged to going there. The film, while it does badly need an update, still stirs me with its lovely soundtrack and stunning sights... almost all of which we have seen in the flesh. Absolutely my favorite pavilion in all of Epcot day, night, and anytime in between.

From the alleys of Morocco to the gardens of Japan...

Number One-  It's not an attraction. Not a shop or restaurant. It's not a show and not a fireworks spectacular. One of our favorite things to do takes place after Illuminations, long after the crowds are gone. We wander the back alleyways and hidden nooks of World Showcase, taking in the quiet of the evening. Hand in hand, we laugh, we kiss, and often we thank the Lord for our life, our marriage, and the very satisfying day we just had at our favorite theme park.

(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)