September 30, 2017

Ruining The Voice

Before tomorrow's post honoring the 35th Anniversary of EPCOT Center / Epcot / "IPcot"(to be coming our way sooner than I'd like), I just have to address something on my mind regarding "The Voice". Yes, it's one of my favorite television shows. The live music aspect is fun and the hook of judges initially not seeing the contestants brings some great surprises. However, this season is lacking in a few ways. Or perhaps there's just excess. Excess Miley Cyrus, admittedly slightly more subdued than the past; and excessive anger or something going on with Jennifer Hudson. Does the woman ever really relax or smile? The intensity level just slices off any sense of fun when she's on the screen. And shouldn't a show like this be fun for both judges and contestants? Thank God for staples Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. Otherwise, I'd be gone. Bring back Gwen, or Pharrell, or anyone for that matter- except CeeLo. He's just creepy.

September 28, 2017

Heaven on Earth- A Paradise in Green

Heading up the river to see the famous Fern Grotto in Kaui'i. Another untouched (and probably the last) photograph of our vacation. If Hawaii is this beautiful, I can only imagine what Heaven will be like.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 27, 2017

Paradise in Blue

Unretouched, unfiltered, unimaginably gorgeous.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 25, 2017

Return from Paradise

How can it be that my heart grieves and rejoices at the same time? Easy. Just now returning from a long needed trip to Kauai with my wonderful wife. It was beyond wonderful! The beauty of the island and the time alone with my wife was just what The Doctor ordered. Using many miles from all my business travels, we were able to go for $11 a person. Hard to pass that up!

Days at the beach swimming and snorkeling, seeing the sights, and waking up to the sound of the ocean was the perfect complement to spending time alone with my lovely bride.

Granted, this isn't a great photo from my friend and excellent photographer Len Yokoyama, but it's the best I can do in capturing the beauty of God's creation. (Yes, fellow Disney fans, I really did go all the way to Hawaii and skipped seeing the Aulani Resort.) I'm positive that God created Kaui'i and then stopped, saying to Himself- "THIS is perfection!"

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 22, 2017

Rare Walt Disney World Venetian Resort Art

Feast your eyes on they beautiful piece of concept art. Walt Disney World's Venetian Resort for set to grace the lake right alongside the Contemporary and Polynesian. Would have been a lovely sight to behold! And a great way to take a gondola around from different parts of the resort. 

Naturally, a Venetian theme played into parts of Italy's World Showcase space at EPCOT Center. But unlike Tokyo DisneySea, it was minimized to just a couple of bridges and a few gondolas as props. 

Still, this piece of Imagineering art still gives us fodder for dreams of coffee table books. So instead of waiting, go to the real Venice. It is one amazing place! (Check out the blog for my photos!)

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 21, 2017

Tahitian Getaway

Getting ready for cooler days, colorful leaves, and evening fires. But not yet! This beautiful image reminds me of what paradise looks like in my mind. No, it's not Walt Disney World's Polynesian bungalows- it's the real thing!

(Photograph copyright Greg Vaughn.)

September 18, 2017

Mysterious EPCOT Center Concept Art

At its opening and for its first 10 years or so, EPCOT Center was a masterpiece of thoughtful design and engineering- and the multiple pieces of concept art for the park were usually as stunning as the end result. 

When I think of the art associated with this park, my mind instantly goes to Herb Ryman. Certainly, he is one of the most gifted painters to ever grace Imagineering. But he wasn't the only one. From what I've been told, the above image is from the gifted but unknown Tom Simpson. In my mind, however, the art does look some something Ryman would do: striking colors, dramatic lighting, and people presented with very vivid personalities.

The truth of the matter is, however you present it, Spaceship Earth commands this type of attention and always draws the eye. Ah, Future World and World Showcase- what fantastic areas in what was once a most unique and ambitious theme park!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 14, 2017

A Parade Worth Waiting For

I was a big fan of the original Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland, but no other parade has been worth the wait in my eyes. Until now. 

Check out the video below.

September 13, 2017

An English Garden, You Say?

Funny, how a small comment can make you think some things and make you look at your blessings a bit differently.

We recently had some new friends over, and his comment coming into our home was "Walking towards your front door, I felt as if I was in an English garden." 

It wasn't until the next day when I was taking a break from reading my Bible and looking out the front window that I thought of his words. I started to look around. It really was a pretty if small area. 

Framed by an arbor with a beautiful blooming vine and a small garden of purple, pink and white flowers are set against the green exterior of the house with its white windows, I could see where my friend might think this while on the front walkway.

Made me stop and thank God for living in such a nice place! We're certainly not in the best neighborhood or the worst. We're pretty middle class by any way you look at it. It's definitely not a show home from HGTV, but God has been wonderful to us. 

I guess that was the whole point!

(Not my house and not my photo. Photographer unknown.)

September 12, 2017

Little Bereans

Got spare time? These guys did here, so what did they do? Open up Mommy and Daddy's Bible to read it. Of course, my granddaughter cannot read yet, but her brother certainly can- and already at a third grade level we're told. These "Little Bereans" (referenced in the Book of Acts, Chapter 17 in the Bible) must certainly have touched God's heart as they did this. I know they touched mine!

September 11, 2017

Heroes Not Cowards

Remember this day. Even as we find ourselves on the brink of getting involved more than some of us ever thought. And definitely more than any of us would like.

It was a day of tragedy, but also a day for heroes- not cowards! Radical Islam extremists decided to attack us, the United States of America on September 11, 2001, not the other way around.  We as a people rallied together. People of all faiths and backgrounds. We came together to grieve together and pray together.

Let us remember. Pray for our nation, remembering the sacrifices of those serving,  the loss of family and friends. Let us preserve our freedoms- but do it with wisdom. Let us honor those who gave their lives instead of honoring and defending those who killed others. 

Christians overseas are being slaughtered. Children, infants, women and men alike. And we stand by or so it seems. Did we not learn anything from Hitler and World War II?

What other country in the world would care about the rights of terrorists when fighting a war? We have a right to defend our people, our land, and to come together with those of other nations experiencing the violent and deadly attacks that come against them.

September 10, 2017

National Suicide Prevention Day

Each year about 44,000 Americans die by suicide. Think about that number- 44,000. Wow. That also leaves hundreds of thousands of grieving families and friends when their loved one makes the choice hopelessly opt of life- choosing to believe the future will not change. 

Christians are not immune. Even pastors. This story of one such pastor is at once totally heartbreaking and also totally hopeful. But as you will see, God is always good and always available to those who cry out to Him. Check it out here.

September 9, 2017

Discovery Bay Art and the Ultimate Journey into Imagination

Disney geeks like me know that Imagineering's fan hero Tony Baxter had offered up the great Discovery Bay themed area as an expansion to Disneyland- and that the suits at the time gave it the heave ho when Island at the Top of the World flopped in theaters. 

But did you know parts of it made its way to EPCOT Center and later to Disneyland Paris? As part of the proposed Disneyland expansion, a charming traveling theater show was to be part of the new land (see concept art above) hosted by Professor Marvel and his dragon. Fast forward to EPCOT Center, and we see once again how old ideas never die as the Professor became Dreamfinder and the dragon Figment as stars of Journey into Imagination

What happened is a fascinating story. And Martin Smith, creator of amazing EPCOT Center history videos has released a new video on the Future World pavilion devoted to the duo. Find Part One here. Trust me, you will love it.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 8, 2017

Wonders of China

Now that Shanghai Disneyland is up and running, the suits must be relieved as they have been courting China for a park for at least a decade- if not longer - when you look at what it took to get the Chinese government to work with them for EPCOT Center. 

This attraction poster for Wonders of China captures a bit of the magic the filmed adventure brings to World Showcase. If you look closely,  it is actually a poster for Disneyland. Looking for something to replace the American Journeys Circle-Vision 360 film (itself coming from Florida), the suits plucked Wonders of China.  

A more recent revision caused the film to be renamed Reflections of China. Still a beautiful if shortened presentation in the Temple of Heaven recreation. There's much more to be discovered in this beautiful corner of World Showcase. A decent restaurant, a pretty good fast service cafe, acrobatic performances, and a plethora of shopping.

China makes her place known in Future World as well. Soarin' Around the World takes guests over the Great Wall. It's not Ride the Dragon, the proposed coaster for the once proposed Westcot, but its a much more authentic slice of the country.

(Art and images copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 6, 2017

The Bigger Picture

The forest for the trees. How about "the sunflowers for the field"? We were out and about during the long weekend, visiting a park we had never been to before, and I saw these beautiful flowers in the distance. I couldn't help but get closer to them and take a few photographs.

The bunches of them were everywhere! I wish I had my camera and not just my cel phone to grab these shots. Off I went trying to get the best ones possible by moving every which way I could.

It hit me looking at the photographs. When I was up close looking only at the flowers, I could only see what was right in front of me. As I moved further and further back for additional photos, I saw the bigger picture. News flash. It's just like this in my relationship with God. I can fixate on the heartache of a situation and lose the beauty to be found around it. Or, on those rare occasions when my faith in the Lord really comes together, I can be patient and wait to see what God brings out of any circumstance. 

I know He will eventually- it may even be eternity until I see it- but God is faithful, and His word is true. All things do work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (From the Apostle Paul's letter to the church in Rome, chapter 8, verse 28.)

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

September 4, 2017

Looking at the Past and the Future of Disneyland's Fantasyland

The very heart of Disneyland rests right behind the castle at the endow Main Street U.S.A. One of the original areas at opening, Fantasyland draws in the young and young at heart since the beginning. Certainly, we think this area of the park is timeless. There's a warmth and charm that feels quaint, authentic, and there through the ages. That said, this section of the park has seen many changes. This 1957 park map shows what it looked like in its earliest incarnation. Definitely from another era, another budget, and another design process.

Peter Pan and his flight to Neverland was the instant breakout attraction in Fantasyland from the beginning. Snow White and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride were also enduring hits, but 60 years later, Pan continues to be the one must-see attraction in the castle courtyard.

When Imagineer Tony Baxter was given the green light to create the Fantasyland Walt Disney always wanted but couldn't afford, he and very talented team did an amazing job of redesigning the area to feel fresh but also timeless. The colorful tournament tent-like facades gave way to stylized versions of European villages. The Imagineers also debuted a new attraction for the California park, bringing a sparkling new Pinocchio dark ride to the line up of rides. 

Attractions were moved, enhanced, added or even deleted. The Fantasyland Theater was gone, the Mad Tea Party was moved to a much better location, and Skull Rock was gone forever- except at Disneyland Paris. The beautiful kid-friendly Storybookland Canal Boats survived the changes as did Casey Jr.'s Circus Train, but eventually the skyway was closed. 

So successful was the revitalization of the land under Baxter, that his Fantasyland became the model for those Magic Kingdom styled parks that followed. Florida's New Fantasyland may make the rethinking of the concept however, as the suits seem intent on cramming in Harry Potter styled lands into the parks, making Fantasyland a prime place to hold several different mini-lands vs. a mix of stories sitting side by side.

Changes are the way of the park. Prior to the transition of the 80's, the Matterhorn Bobsleds and It's a Small World earned their place on the list of beloved attractions. Coming soon in the next decade, a Frozen themed land and rumors (wishful thinking?) of something Beauty and the Beast related coming to a slice of Fantasyland and a bigger slice taken from Mickey's Toontown

Imagineers and suits come and go. Though I doubt we will ever see the free reign given to the creatives as was given to the first and second generation of Imagineers, there are signs the suits can give them room to stretch to stunning results. Time will tell.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 1, 2017

Friday at Disneyland 1955

Time for another visit to Disneyland. This time its 1955, and Walt's magical kingdom has recently opened. Let's take a look around the park that became an American institution and a franchise to be exploited by later leadership.

Main Street U.S.A. was charming back then! It was full of life as guests journeyed under the train station to find a fully recreated piece of life at the turn of the century. The Main Street Cinema showed the latest in film, including the lovable Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie. Varieties of vehicles were found everywhere from horse drawn street cars to the omnibus to the local fire engine. No need to walk if you didn't want to. But why wouldn't you want to explore all the shops along the way including the old fashioned Market House with its party line telephone.

What was that at the end of the street? A Bavarian castle! The gateway to Fantasyland actually. A place for the young and young at heart. Fly off to Neverland with Peter Pan, ride the carousel, the Mad Tea Party spinning cups, or explore the mysterious Skull Rock. There was no Matterhorn Bobsleds or It's a Small World, but you still couldn't keep families away. There was nothing like this park to be found anywhere in the US.

An opening day crowd pleaser was the Jungle River Cruise. Found in Adventureland, long before the Enchanted Tiki Room, Swiss Family Treehouse, or Indiana Jones Adventure, the area wasn't as lush as it is 60 years later, but it was still beautiful and full of animals. As the premier attraction in the land, guests couldn't wait to board these beautiful little vessels to head off to the remotest parts of Africa and Asia. They still can't.

The American West and its tales of Davy Crockett and other heroes inspired the park's Frontierland. Back in the day, Americans were rightly proud of our heritage. Walt Disney himself loved this parcel of land and its Mark Twain Steamboat and the wonderful Golden Horseshoe Revue. In this man's opinion, the original show in the old saloon is still the best. 

Walt never just looked backward. He was always looking forward as well. Tomorrowland was mostly incomplete at opening, decorated with flags and banners to mask the fact the budget had been busted. Space Mountain and a grand adventure aboard submarines would have to wait for later. I can forgive the suits back then or this misstep as this was a brand new venture, but now there's no excuse now for opening a shoddy half-day park. The money's there as well as the expertise. 

It was a great and memorable year to visit Disneyland- and it was only beginning.

(Map from