July 31, 2018

New Carpenters Album with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

As reported by the music board A&M Corner, via his Instagram account account, Richard Carpenter announced a new project with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Classic Carpenters music will be used for a new compilation. Hopefully, this is to be released as part of Richard and Karen Carpenter's 50th Anniversary in the music industry. It was 1969 when A&M Records co-owner Herb Alpert signed them to his label. Soon, the rest was history.

Timeless Movie Coming in December

Calling all clockblockers! Timeless will finally get it's two hour long wrap up movie! Lucy and Wyatt and team will get to close out the excellent series in a manner that should satisfy fans while the networks still stick to their "No 3rd Season" stance. One bad decision has eventually led to a smart one. I'll be watching, won't you?

July 30, 2018

Disney World After A Decade Away: Day Five - Magic Kingdom, Polynesian and Disney Springs

Nearing the end of my trip report, but there's still so much to tell you. I was surprised by this day in several ways. It was much shorter (just like this post), but it was another great day.

What a way to start the day!

After a terrific but very long day at the Magic Kingdom, our second day at the original Florida Disney park started early, but it would end up being much shorter than our previous day. Surprisingly, we were all fine with that. 

Splash Mountain beckoned us with an early morning ride due to Fast Pass. We followed it up with another wild ride in the wilderness. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is just that good- and it remains my favorite ride in the Magic Kingdom. In fact, if I had to guess I'd say it was probably everyone's favorite. 

In short order we'd covered two repeat must-see attractions, and we had some time left before our next Fast Pass, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  I couldn't wait to ride the newest coaster on the property. From everything I could tell, I was going to love it.

An unexpected choice with great rewards for people
who dared to move beyond E Ticket attractions.

Corporately, I think we decided on a pretty bold choice: Tom Sawyer Island. My daughter and family had not been on the island last trip, and I hadn't been on it for years. And I mean years. What a delight it was! 

Just getting away from it all was smart. After the short raft ride over to the island, we hopped off and began exploring. The lush dense forest was the perfect setting for an adventure that seemed to last quite awhile but was in fact probably 45 minutes at most. From the lengthy suspended bridge to the caves, the kids loved the sense of total freedom, and we loved the diversity of experience... and the lack of crowds, which we could see forming on the mainland as more and more folks poured into the Kingdom.

Taken from one of the viewing spots in the fort.

Could it be that Walt Disney knew what people needed at the park? Perhaps he realized that not only would a visit to the island be a nice break from standing in line but that it would also be an opportunity for guests to create their own "free form" experience in opposition to the thoroughly thought out and well designed experiences the Imagineers would build. Disney dark rides and Jungle Cruises are manufactured to tell the specific story they want to tell. The Tom Sawyer Island experience is deliberately different.

From a flatly objective viewpoint, the island is nothing more than an elaborate playground- but it's one that appeals to children, teens, and adults of all ages because it's so well done! And don't you love the fact that, at least in Southern California, the island was personally designed by Walt himself? I do! It shows he was a kid at heart, a kid that loved to explore and discover. I'd say it also shows that Walt knew nothing was as refreshing and revitalizing as what God created when the earth was formed. Something about being among nature. Be it the forest, the ocean, or the desert, nothing is as majestic or can be duplicated at the hands of man. 

A real fort you can still enter- unlike the one at Disneyland!

   Yes, he is shooting a gun. 
Politically incorrect for some folks, 
but it was his favorite part of the island.

So, here it was, the beginning of the Summer season, and Aunt Polly's cafe was not open. That was really too bad. Oh, I remember the joy of sitting there on the porch drinking freshly squeezed lemonade and thinking about the next place I would go. Would it be the eerie Haunted Mansion across the river or maybe a stop into the solidly patriotic Hall of Presidents? Those were the days! You could get into the Mansion without an hour wait, and you could sit in the Hall of Presidents without having to worry if some jerk couldn't control himself by having to shout out something rude or crude to a group of robots. 

Long lines due to: 1- Summer, 2- Fast Pass, 
3- An under built park, and 4- Woefully under built secondary parks.

As we needed to leave the island and head toward Fantasyland for our next ride of the day, I took a quick glance over at Country Bear Jamboree. How I wanted to see it, but it wouldn't happen this trip. Count it as another casualty to having to plan ahead for nicer dining locations and Fast Pass reservations for attractions. We substituted it for a ride on the railroad from the Frontierland station to the very well done Fantasyland station.

One of two contenders for the best
part of the New Fantasyland.

I might have mentioned in the earlier trip report that I was surprised by the relative lack of big trees in what is supposed to be a very forested area of the New Fantasyland, the land surrounding the Mine Train attraction. There is much barren concrete, certainly a concession to having to accommodate large crowds and wide strollers. Imagining myself walking into a forest from the castle and seeing Maurice's cottage or that of Snow White, I wanted to be vowed by the "big reveal" as I walked from the older part of Fantasyland into the new one the first time. 

I wasn't. When a major land that defines the Magic Kingdom for so many guests gets revised in such a transformative way, I'd expect only Disney's best and brightest Imagineers to be in charge and to do much better with the project. All this made the new roller coaster a wonderful surprise! 

Riding in the last car, I felt the sway of the cars as I experienced one of the most lavishly themed family coasters. The views of the surrounding area were great- bet it's even better at night- but it was what I viewed inside the mountain that made the attraction as enjoyable as it was. Part coaster, part dark ride, all terrific. The diamond mine sparkled as it should, the dwarfs looked pretty good for projections, and the iconic music set the perfect flavor for it all. Yes, the ride was too short and the lines too long, but Disney has a winner on its hands. A great addition to an already strong coaster line-up.

We had our last Fast Pass for Peter Pan's Flight, and in less than three or four minutes, we took off for Neverland. Compared to what I'd seen at Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, it was very underwhelming- small, cramped rooms, and minimal upkeep. It's a signature park attraction that deserves better.

One last look at Liberty Square.

Our next and last stop in the Magic Kingdom would be Mickey's Philharmagic. The kids were a little skeptical with the 3D aspect as last trip they were scared by it all. Not this time. And they loved Donald Duck being the star of the show. 

Happy to see us- happy to be here!

At 2pm, it was time to leave the park. Yes, it really was that early, and I was sort of, kind of, almost ready. I mean, I could stay in the Magic Kingdom all day, especially after being gone from Walt Disney World for almost ten years. But our destination was the Polynesian Village Resort and a meal at the Kona Cafe. We'd get there by boat.

The short cruise to the Polynesian was sweet! We were the only ones on the boat, and just being that close to the water hearing the waves, well, it's something that Disneyland can never offer and thus makes Walt Disney World a very unique experience. This is when it truly feels like a resort and not just a collection of theme parks. I could tell the kids enjoyed it. Something I really appreciate about these two, each experience is unique and fun on its own, and it isn't necessary to entertain or pander to them. Made our trip really relaxing and special. Was it because they grew up not being catered to that they've learned to enjoy each discover and have hearts of appreciation? I think so.

Even from behind, it really isn't that bad!

Due the all the on line photographs and commentary, I was truly skeptical of what I would discover at the Polynesian Village lobby. Frankly, the is my favorite hotel in all the World, and the classic waterfall garden at the entrance is iconic. What I found in its place was bright, open, cheery, and much more generic than I thought it should be. Yet, after looking at it from various angles, it started to grow on me. Not my idea of a perfect change, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Gone was the resort's unique smell- but they have have just been the old carpeting.

A largely uninteresting photo- until you take a moment to look 
at all the textures and styles, patterns and finishes.

Disney fans rave about the breakfast offerings at Kona Cafe, but we found lunch to be pretty good! Each dish was varied and flavorful, the service excellent, and the ambiance refreshingly quiet and subdued. Perhaps leaving the parks for an afternoon break is worth what it is cracked up to be. We took the time to really relax, and it set the right tone for the next portion of the day.

Classy sign.

Something my wife and I have always enjoyed is taking a day off from the parks to visit the resorts. After a bit, we jumped on the Monorail for the short journey to the Grand Floridian. We weren't in there too long- just enough to check it out and let my daughter and her family see what all the high priced rooms were about. It wasn't their style (or ours), so we changed course and took the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom and a bus right to Saratoga Springs

Magnolias the size of dinner plates.

By the late afternoon, our resort pool was comfortably busy. The water was so warm that it didn't have that refreshing feel to it. It was just wet, if you know what I mean. Still, we enjoyed the down time and really needed it. The comparative calmness there in contrast to our swimming pool time at All Star Sports years back was noticeable. The difference between a more expensive place and one where high school teens go for cheerleading competitions. When you've gone from park to park all day for several days, the break makes a real difference. I may be spoiled going forward...

The springs of the Springs make for a great environment.

After a couple of hours at the pool, we cleaned up and took a boat to Disney Springs just across the lake. It was so convenient to do so from our resort, and as I mentioned, there's something so fun about all the various forms of transportation throughout the Disney World property.

Wow, just wow! We loved Disney Springs and the gorgeously done make over that the area really needed. Well done, suits and Imagineers! Please keep it up and finish the other side. In our minds, what once was a partial day or few hour dinner stop in the past has turned into a full day excursion. Apparently, many others feel this way as well. By early evening, the place was packed, and it was almost impossible to get a dinner reservation. We leisurely strolled the area, stopped in a few shops and stuck our heads into a few restaurants. 

Edison clock.
(Photo from the next day.)

I had really wanted to see the Edison. Just a bit disappointed overall, but I'm sure when its busy and entertainment is happening after dark, the place feels much more retro and steampunk than when seen in the brightness of the late afternoon sun.

Due to the difficulty of getting reservations in advance - I mean who wants to plan out their entire vacation- choices were limited, so we ended up choosing Paradiso 37 for dinner. This turned out very well for us! Delicious tacos and drinks in a fun and festive environment. Good kids menu, too. We would return for another meal another trip, aside from the fact there were so many other new and interesting places to dine. We had reservations for tomorrow at Morimotos (my daughter's pick), so we'd be back. We returned back to the resort by boat as we came, but it was now evening, and the lights shone on the lake in all their brilliance. It was a gorgeous Florida night: balmy breezes, palms swaying, and a star lit sky. A Disney vacation doesn't get any better than that!

Two days left! Next day would be our last time to Animal Kingdom and our first ride on Flight of Passage and finally that long awaited ride on Expedition: Everest. Then, it would be our last day- a half-day at Disney's Hollywood Studios and the flight home. How did it go so fast?

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

Pretty Classy Statement from the Guardians of the Galaxy Cast Regarding James Gunn

Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Zoe Saldana and all the art of Guardians of the Galaxy posted a Twitter letter on the account of Chris Pratt in support of director James Gunn. He was fired from Disney after a series of decade old tweets came to the surface.

If you've read this blog for any period of time, you know that I will never make light of sexual abuse of any kind- especially that of children. There's no excuse. 

Gunn's follow-up apology for these old Tweets was the right thing to do: straight up owning his actions and words. 

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, the last two paragraphs of the Guardian's cast note are worth something to consider. So, please, should you find yourself discussing a heated issue in person or on line, consider doing so in this manner.

Well done, Guardians. Makes we want to see Part Two of the series now...

July 28, 2018

Dirty Children

The kids probably didn't know or care that they were dirty and that I was clean. Jumping up next to me, they wanted to snuggle into my arms. So, they did, and I held them tightly. Man, they smelled awful! I could barely stand the stench. My heart was breaking for various reasons, but one of them was my selfish state of mind. I was so ashamed of my response.

In a split moment, I heard that small quiet voice speak. "This is how all of you come to me- dirty and smelly, reeking of sin and the brokenness of the world, but I love you anyway, and you are always welcome to come to me." 

Then it dawned on me. The famous story of the prodigal son. In it, Jesus tells a heartbreaking but wonderful tale of a son gone astray, and of the father running to meet the son he loves when the young man finally returns home. The son who was just recently eating with the pigs after years of spending his inheritance on pleasure, alcohol, and on prostitutes. In their culture, it was shameful for a father to do such a thing. But the loving dad didn't care about rules and protocol. He couldn't wait to embrace his son. 

God in the flesh never stayed away from the broken people, the outcasts of the community. Jesus touched lepers and dead people, and interacted with many women- even those of questionable reputation- all when it was against Jewish legalism to do so. Outcasts didn't throw him off. It is the same with you and I. God the Father broke all the rules of men and the protocol of haughty religious leaders by sending Jesus to pay the price for our brokenness, our sins, and the filthy lives we live. All we have to do is coming to Him. He even extends himself to us, putting people in our lives that bear his message of love and forgiveness. I love these two famous verses:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
(John 3:16-17)

As one who believes, my heart and my actions often fail me and displease Him. But He loves me anyway, and I can always come to him, regardless of how dirty I am and where I've been. He loves me without condition. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian church that we are washed clean. We are pure before Him regardless of our past. Listen to this great news:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.
(I John 1:5-10, 3:1-5)

Jesus has done all the work on our behalf. And this new life is a gift- a gift to everyone who believes He was raised from the dead after paying the price for our sin against God. It's by His work on the cross that we can come to Him. It's not by our work so that we can boast. 

July 27, 2018

Original Brazil Model for EPCOT Center's World Showcase

The original model for Brazil's World Showcase pavilion at Epcot shows a slice of what is a take on Copacabana's famous boardwalk in Rio de Janeiro. If I'm not mistaken, that's also a statue of Christ of the Andes (also known as Christ the Redeemer) in the upper left hand corner. Older concept art, seen below, shows this would have been part of the original proposal to add this South American country to the lineup of the park.

Certainly a classic steakhouse is part of the plan. That part we know as its been leaked by those terrific insiders on the WDWMagic site. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, as of this time it seems as if no attraction is planned. Bummer. Does a small soccer field count? Perhaps this holdover from the above old concept art will make the cut. There's more renderings to be found if you research the net. 

Blog Mickey's mock up of the location of the new pavilion.

Blog Mickey shows us on a map where the pavilion will go: smack between Italy and Germany. Definitely bringing a new profile to World Showcase as guests look across the lagoon. It's about time, isn't it? That half of the park has been fairly stagnant for too long.

Given the direction the park is taking, maybe The Three Caballeros will move to Brazil if Coco comes to Mexico. Stranger things have happened!

(Art and model copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Happy Birthday Dad!

Nice to see you smiling! But seriously, how can you not smile while you're in Hawaii?

July 26, 2018

Leadership Confirms Third Universal Orlando Park

Hot off the press news: In an second quarter earnings call, NBC Universal's Steve Burke confirmed plans for a third theme park in Florida. The news comes as no surprise to many theme park fans who can't wait to ride Nintentdo themed attractions. Story broken by the Inside Universal site

July 25, 2018

Colorful Sindbad Poster

Here's the Sindbad's Seven Voyages attraction poster in living color.  From what I can tell, the design and color scheme provides little clue to the depth and beauty of the is original Tokyo DisneySea attraction. It's one that seems to be on everyone's "Favorites" list when they return from the Land of the Rising Sun. 

The other thing folks say is that Alan Menken's composition, Compass of Your Heart, is the best and catchiest attraction theme song since It's A Small World. Can it be?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 24, 2018

Is This the Inspiration for Excavator for Animal Kingdom?

As rumors continue to swirl about a proposed change from Dinosaur into an Indiana Jones themed dinosaur filled jeep adventure, my mind turns to the Excavator coaster which was never built for Animal Kingdom. Is it back on the table? The suits and Imagineers are certainly looking to expand the park's capacity. Avatar / Pandora is an unqualified hit- and Flight of Passage and the family friendly  Na'vi River Journey are still bringing in the guests. 

More people eating attractions are certainly needed and quickly. The beautiful park is an amazing place, but Dinoland U.S.A.'s parking lot carnival needs a revamp to bring it up to par with the rest of the place.

What you're looking at is actually a piece of concept art for Disneyland Paris. Alain Littaye's Disney and More site presented this article with an extremely rare piece of concept art by Imagineer John Horny. The post is here.  

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 23, 2018

When It Rains

Might be impossible to tell from this photo, but today we had an incredibly powerful rain storm hit our city. Amazing amount of water in such a short time. Cheaper than paying for it! It's been one of our wettest summers that I can ever remember. With all the wind as well, it was time to open the windows and enjoy that fresh air!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

July 22, 2018

What Drives Chip and Joanna Gaines

Love 'em or hate em, Chip and Joanna Gaines are pretty savvy people! Personally, I love their simple, direct honesty, warts and all. And they talk about them in this very interesting video from two years back. Worth watching again.

Once you see this, you'll understand why HGTV is now all the poorer for the end of Fixer Upper and their departure. America fell in love with the Gaines family for a reason. 

July 21, 2018

Little Buddies

Cousins and buddies- just adorable!

July 20, 2018

Sklar's Art for a New Asian Magic Kingdom

Years back, I was the first to uncover some rare concept art for a proposed Dubai Disneyland. That was June 2014, and other sites took notice even as I took down the concept art as asked. They say sometimes lightning strikes twice! Here is a piece for a new Asia Magic Kingdom. The artist is a Sklar, but it's not Marty Sklar. It's Andy Sklar. He's part of an association called Coroflot. Information found at Coroflot.com.

Here's another piece of Andy's concept art- a proposal for Epcot for the Coral Reef Lounge. Obviously, the Living Seas has been invade by Nemo and Friends at this point in time.

Will there be another Magic Kingdom is Asia? Without a doubt as the population of China alone can handle it. Robert Iger has already mentioned there are plans for other parks there. 

The art above may be older, but you can rest assured yet one more Magic Kingdom is coming sooner than later to compete for guests. 

Tokyo Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland will be followed by __________________.  Where? Your guess is as good as mine!

(Art copyright Andy Sklar.)

A Polynesian Village Getaway

Simply magical! That is exactly what I think of this beautiful piece of concept art. How can you not just love the view of the Magic Kingdom from this restaurant at the Polynesian Village

Animator (and more) Don Hahn's book Yesterday's Tomorrow, Disney's Magical Mid-Century sparkles with great text and one incredible piece of art one after another. It's a must purchase for any fan of what Walt and his Imagineers accomplished in the 50s and 60s. The list is too exhaustive, but as you'll discover from reading, so is the list of what wasn't built. Amazing!

The next days of our Walt Disney World trip report are coming- as is my trip report on my Commando visit to Disneyland.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 19, 2018

Shock Back to Reality from The World

After a great trip to Walt Disney World and an unexpected day trip to Disneyland, there's nothing like a family health scare to bring things back to reality.  

Our wonderful young daughter had a stroke about 5 years ago while I was out of the country on business. This left my poor wife to deal with her life threatening situation while I tried to get myself stateside. The discovery of a blood clot in her brain due to an unfortunate chemical reaction when she became pregnant created havoc. Doctors told them the necessary blood thinners would abort the baby. Of course, eventually, they came up with another option: daily shots of a different thinner done twice a day for the remaining six months of her pregnancy.

While she and her husband dealt with this necessary treatment, God had other plans. Our church continued to pray for her with the laying on of hands. It is the Biblical method of prayer for healing along with the facts that 1- God also uses doctors and medicine and 2- He doesn't always heal. He is not a genie in a bottle. 

In this case, He did heal her, fully removing the blot clot but leaving an "image" of it on the artery, reminding us of her health scare. 

Fast forward to now. The pregnancy resulted in the birth of our healthy sweet granddaughter, and our daughter remains on blood thinners at the advice of her doctors. Last month, the six of us took our trip to the World.  Last week, our daughter had an unexpected emergency gall bladder removal. Although she lost much blood, she's recovering nicely. 

All to say, temporary times of fantasy and play are fun, but the realities of life creep in. And they should- life is short, and eternity is forever. I'm thankful to understand the truth of both.

July 16, 2018

Disney World After A Decade Away: Day Four - Magic Kingdom

As a Disney theme park fan, if you don't have a soft spot in your heart for Disneyland and/or the Magic Kingdom, I'd have to doubt if you have a heart at all! Here was our first big day at the core of Walt Disney World, and all six of us were thrilled to be here. (Just to recap, the group of the "six of us" is made up of my wife and I, our youngest daughter and her husband, and their two kids ages 6 and 4. We've already had one day at Animal Kingdom and two days at Epcot.) This post will be the longest trip report of the whole vacation for reasons that will become obvious by the end.

Coming to the Magic Kingdom via bus was not the most magical of ways to arrive, but it was the fastest. In the old days, taking the boats across the lagoon or the monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center signaled I was not at Disneyland. 

As Walt Disney himself said about Florida, they had, "The blessing of size" there. It is clearly evident. This was well used in the early years. After quite a distance of road to be traveled, day guests finally arrived at Walt Disney World after seeing nothing but trees. It's a very impressive "WOW!" moment to see Cinderella Castle from across the lagoon. Regardless of how you travelled to get to the entrance of the park, land use and transportation was used to build anticipation. In 2018, the trip to the front of the Main Street Railroad Station wasn't nearly as dramatic, but for us, that didn't mean we weren't just as excited to be there.

Walking under the station evokes memories
and anticipates new ones!

Walking through the tunnels under the station, I was just as much impacted by the view of the castle as I am every time I do the same at Disneyland. The Anaheim park will always be my "home" park, but I have just as much a sense of coming home in Florida. How can this be? Easy. I was just a kid when I first visited Disneyland. As a man with his own wife and family, Walt Disney World is a very special place with all its wonderful memories from our visits. Now as a grandfather, it takes on even more special meaning which will never be replaced. May be hard to believe, but trust me, it is 100% the truth. Due to that fact, if for no other reason, I can't wait for my next trip to the Florida swamplands. OK, onto the trip report itself.

The Crystal Palace is one of my favorite Walt Disney World landmarks.

Holding an early morning Splash Mountain Fast Pass meant we had to depart Saratoga Springs very early in the day. Once we made it through the turnstiles, I walked in wide eyed wonder as we traveled down Main Street. The sense of anticipation was high and so were the wide smiles on everyone's face as we got our first glimpse of the castle. I looked around at the Plaza. Yes, many trees are gone, and I missed the lushness, but I do understand why the suits cleared the way for more fireworks viewing areas. AstroTurf aside, they really did a pretty nice job of it. Such is the price paid for astronomical growth in visitor numbers almost 50 years later and for under building the next three parks on the property.

Turning left toward Adventureland, I just had to stop and photograph the gorgeous Crystal Palace. Used to eat there, but now, it's a place for an overpriced character meal. Elegantly situated alongside the (unused) waterway. Once home of the beautiful Plaza Swan Boats, it's a stunning piece of British Colonial architecture and a perfect visual segue from 1890's America to the wilds of Adventureland. 

I could see Liberty Square as we walked, and I was excited to be able to go to that part of the park. As the one unique land to the Magic Kingdom, walking through it always reminded me of how proud Walt Disney was of our country. This seems something that is sorely lost these days as we angrily argue and debate each other instead of working together.


... turns to delight!

As we entered the jungle, we turned into the arcade that led us to Frontierland. We made such good time that we still had an opportunity to jump in line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a family favorite. It was my sweet little granddaughter's first ride, and you can tell by the look on her face that she had some apprehension. Rest assured, she ended up loving it, easily going on it the next day! 

My grandson, older and taller than his sister, had already ventured on the "Wildest Ride in the Wilderness" two years earlier, and he couldn't wait to get on it again. You could see the sense of pride he had while encouraging his sister as well as his steady calmness about getting on that train once more.

LOVE Big Thunder Mountain Railroad!

Speaking of pride, we just happened to be at this park during Disney's unofficial annual Gay Days. Guests participating in the event were supposedly marked by wearing red shirts. Some observations: First, all the participants were very well behaved. Secondly, at least this year, they were small in number. Very small. It continues to amaze me how such a tiny group of people could carry such heavy weight and influence in our country. Make of that what you will, but it is a statement to the power of democracy and to the power of the press.

This thrill ride has it all.
Great story, wonderful music, 
and it's long enough to really get immersed in it.

After Big Thunder, we were ready to enjoy Splash Mountain and our ability to bypass the standby line. In minutes, we were aboard. I was surprised how humid it already was so early in the morning! The blast of the cool air conditioning as we entered one of the caves in the queue was refreshing and sorely needed. 

The blessing of size. 
Land as far as the eye can see!

While Big Thunder seemed flawless in its upkeep, this was not the case with the Magic Kingdom's watery attraction. Some of the Audio-Animatronics needed work, paint in various areas was faded or even chipped, and the sound quality seemed muddled (especially when I compared it to what I found at the attraction a little more than a month later at Disneyland). That said, it remains a family favorite. It's still great fun! And who can beat the view from the top of Chickapin Hill? 

Please Disney, do not "correct" any political incorrectness due to the source material from which this attraction was born. Sometimes it's better to leave things alone.

This jungle is LUSH!

Our next Fast Pass was for Enchanted Tales with Belle, but we had just enough time to grab a coffee and take a short wait in line for the Jungle Cruise. Gotta love that Touring Plans app! But I don't love how wait times propel you to jump from one attraction to another at the expense of soaking in all the details and atmosphere a particular land has to offer. When we tour alone, a blend of wandering and scheduling will serve us better next trip, but for now, it's all about the rides.

Lost family and missed opportunity.

Perfect example: After our cruise, we had to walk past the Swiss Family Treehouse to get to Belle before our Fast Pass deadline. I love everything about the Tree House, and I thought we'd always have another chance to get back to it, but it never happened.  

Our cruise was highlighted by the great thick jungle the Florida weather has allowed. After almost 50 years of growth, the landscapes of this original Kingdom attraction really support the adventure, and the cruise maintains its spot as a must-do. 

It may not be as authentic or as real as Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom, but it's still a bit of silly fun and well worth a ride. The fact this attraction even remains as popular as ever is a testament to the abilities and craftsmanship of the original Walt Disney era Imagineers. These carefully designed experiences stand as a current reminder there are vitally important aspects to Disney theme parks far beyond the now popular and easy two-minute thrill ride. Do you think those now in charge of the parks even recognize the fact that this attraction along with Pirates of the Caribbean, It's A Small World and the Haunted Mansion are still popular for a reason? It's not just nostalgia, although I'm sure that holds true for some people. 

In my mind, the reason for their continued popularity is that these attractions are lavish in scope and scale, lengthy in presentation, have great attention to detail, and are chock full of atmosphere. These emotionally and physically take you somewhere. You're not watching a screen, you're living an adventure in full color. This is particularly true in the case of Pirates and Mansion, where guests are swept into the story, taken out of the everyday life and thrust into a world that is not duplicated in a Six Flags type park or on a computer screen. There are times the Imagineer in me gets very frustrated with the lack of care and respect for the history (and future) of the parks by those in charge of them. (Case in point is Pixar Pier- but that's a story for my post about my day at Disneyland and California Adventure.)

Charming- and thankfully, unique.

Back to Enchanted Tales with Belle. Some debate- Is it an attraction or is it a meet and greet? As an adult, I'd say it's an elaborate meet and greet, but there are enough elements of it that feel like an attraction including well done Audio-Animatronics. Waiting in a chain lined queue to meet a princess is not my idea of how to spend time. Yet, for those with small children who happen to love a particular movie, an experience like this is certainly worth the wait. My granddaughter loves Belle, and I love my granddaughter. That makes it enough of a reason to get in line. All said, I found Enchanted Tales to be sweet, charming, and memorable. 

For the record, this was our only intentional character experience. Even the kids wanted to bypass meeting characters in order to ride more rides. Smart kids! I did want to see all of New Fantasyland, however, so our visit to Belle's cottage made sense as part of the tour. Some fan appreciation here: Our Disney Belle was extremely gracious and gentle with each young visitor, even those who were not chosen to be in the play. This cast member was particularly kind and patient with my granddaughter, never forgetting how magical these moments are for the little ones. Kudos to her!

The intended audience.

Would I jump at the chance to experience a full blown, beautiful, fully realized "E Ticket" Beauty and the Beast attraction? Absolutely. Count me in- and I'm sure I'm not alone in this. But where is it?

A few of these detailed character encounter locations definitely have their place in the park. The problem is at the Magic Kingdom, they seem to have won their place at the loss of my beloved dark rides or a dazzling new adventure. Not a win. What about that blessing of size? No doubt in my mind that Fantasyland needs more. More rides, more places to sit down and eat in a covered location, and more flowers and trees. 

Will this turn into a meet and greet location later?

As beautiful as the New Fantasyland is at first glance, the truth is it falls short in design and execution in too many ways. With regards to the mini-Belle land, Gaston's Tavern is small but effectively sets the mood. The shop next door is adequate. The fountain is cute. The drawbridge to the restaurant should be the entrance to a landmark attraction as well. We did eat dinner at Be Our Guest, but I'll share my thoughts on that later.

A real bait and switch for unsuspecting tourists-
and lovers of Disney's 1989 comeback film.

I'll sidestep the order of our touring day to say The Little Mermaid's adventure is hosted in an "E Ticket" building in a prime location, with a very beautiful queue, but it delivers a less than satisfying experience. The exterior promises something memorable, but in truth, it offers up a ride that leaves you thinking "What was that?" or even worse, "Was this the best the Imagineers could do?"

Why repeat the space constricted version of the attraction at California Adventure when you could do so much more? It's truly quite disappointing, and in fact, most of our group rated Frozen Ever After a much better ride. (Not me.) If Ariel, Belle, Elsa, and the other princesses (as featured in Wreck It Ralph 2) were really honest, they'd scream "Why are the Disney theme park rides devoted to my film so lame?" Especially poor Rapunzel, whose story has been relegated to a set of restrooms! Guess hard core fans wanting more have to travel to Tokyo Disney Resort to experience what should be found at Disney's supposedly flagship resort. (Don't believe me? Look what Rapunzel is getting here, and see what Belle and Beast truly deserve here.)

It's most unfortunate that the two major redeeming factors in the stunning to look at New Fantasyland seem to be the additions that are most difficult ones for guests to experience: The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the Be Our Guest restaurant. The former one requires much patience if you don't have a Fast Pass, and the latter requires much money in addition to patience if you're finally able to get a reservation. And trust me here- you'd better get them on line 60 days out. 

The end result is a mixed-bag experience.

Back to the trip report. For the first time during our trip, our group had to split up for the next attraction. Space Mountain's limitations made it impossible for our sweet little girl to ride, but our grandson was finally tall enough to venture into outer space. Grandma joined her for a Mad Tea Party spin while Grandpa went with the parents and their son.

Rite of Passage.
Flight of Passage would come two days later.

He was thrilled. As for me, I was jerked around like never before. The ride is just plain rough. The only other Disney ride that comes this close to hurting the guests in this manner can be found at Disneyland, and it's the classic, Walt era, Matterhorn Bobsleds. I would not be unhappy to see Florida's epic Space Mountain and California's Swiss mountain adventure totally rebuilt with a brand new track. There's enough major rides in both parks to handle these being retooled. Especially once Tron Lightcycle Run is finally open in Florida and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in California. 

Have I mentioned I still love this ride?

By this point in time, it was hot. I mean hot. Not visiting in the summer for quite a few years, I was still surprised by the heat, even after several days of being there. We had some time before our early afternoon lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern (my son-in-law's pick.) Off to It's a Small World we went.

If you bought a collectible doll when they were available, 
hold onto them. This granddaughter owns one of these.
Her Mom loved the Parisian dancers when she was little.

Despite there being more sophisticated rides built in later years, Small World holds a special place in my heart. It's gentle, very charming, and reminds me of a simpler time when we were innocent. I loved the change to the queue area, now bringing the famous clock to Florida. 

The iconic music in the attraction seemed different than on the West Coast compared to what I remembered. It wasn't nearly as pronounced. I loved spotting the differences between the two attractions. (Does anyone else geek out on stuff like that?) Of course, the kids were enjoying it all, including seeing the animated characters. I'll spare you the multitude of photos I took, as you've probably seen hundreds of them by now. 

How to break a Grandfather's heart in half.
Photo not representative.

That childhood innocence can be wrapped in an absolutely deadly question at times. Sometime along the day, I'm standing in line for a ride with my grandson, and he drops a bomb of a question, "Grandpa, when I'm an adult, will you still be alive?" For a split second, I was just numb, overwhelmed with the question as I was in the midst of having a great time with him. Tears were quickly welling up, so I decided to ask the Lord to give me wisdom as to how to respond. You see, my sweet grandson had recently lost his Great Grandfather just a few months ago, a man he knew and visited in the hospital, so I wanted to give this sensitive and kind boy a truly honest answer but one that wouldn't bring him further concern. I gently put my arm around him, composed myself, and looked him in the eyes (which about damn near killed me). "Well, when I'm 100 years old and you're an adult, I'm sure I'll be in Heaven with Jesus. The good thing is, because we both love Him and have made a decision to follow Him, one day we'll all be together in Heaven." He smiled warmly, taking it all in, melting my heart again. I just love this fine young man and would love as many years with him as possible. 

View from the (restroom) loft.

We had just a great lunch at the Tavern! In hindsight, it was really wise for us to stop regularly in the heat of the day to rest indoors, reflect on the day, and enjoy ourselves as we talk about our in park adventures. Each of us counted this meal as one that was very good and well worth the cost. If you love a good plate of fish and chips, don't overlook this Kingdom oldie but goodie.

Great signage that sets up the visitors
for a creepy and mysterious adventure.

After lunch, were decided to split up boys and girls. Just for a bit. The girls took off for Starbucks and a short shopping time, but the guys decided to head toward the realm of hitch-hiking ghosts. 

Newer additions to the attraction queue.
A mistake that minimizes the forthcoming fear factor
involved for younger guests.

This was perhaps, our one mistake of the day. I so wanted to see the Haunted Mansion in its non- Nightmare Before Christmas mode. The last several visits to California have been during the Fall, so it had been years since I've been able to experience it in its original incarnation. Why was this a mistake? Our young explorer was clearly scared, closing his eyes, and we talked him through the ride.  Even the standard explanation of "It's all make believe" didn't cut it. He understands the spiritual world is absolutely real. I'm glad it was Dad's decision, and not mine- even though I supported it. 

Meant to go in, but I totally forgot!

From a fan perspective, what did I find? The Dorian Gray portrait still worked, even if guests were escorted into the stretching room earlier than they should be, while the doors to the outside were open. That part bothers me, and it happened in California as well. It might push the crowd in, but it eliminates some of the overall experience. 

Once on the doombuggy, I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover that first three rooms of the tour did not exist on the West Coast, and they had much more detail than I expected. There's a couple of strengths to Anaheim's mansion over Orlando's, but if I had to pick, I'd say the version in Liberty Square is the stronger of the two. Chalk that up to a more menacing exterior and those extra rooms.

Yo ho! The great exterior to a truncated attraction.

Once the ladies returned from shopping on Main Street, cruising in search of Captain Jack Sparrow was the next order of the day. In sharp contrast to the previous attraction, as much as I really like the fortress set up for the ride, Florida's Pirates of the Caribbean pales in comparison to the first incarnation and even that of Disneyland Paris. Please don't misunderstand. It's a great attraction on it's own, but when making comparisons, it just doesn't hold up as well. For Disney park fans who have never visited the original Kingdom, it may well be the reason they should. 

Good "starter" coaster for the little guys. 
 Who says you can't have fun in the rain?

The Touring Plans app and the official one together pointed us to Dumbo for a quick ten minute wait. By the time we walked there, the rain was coming down and that wait dissipated to less than two minutes. The play land inside the tent was very well done, and I can imagine it to be a very useful diversion for little flyers when the crowds are thick. It was sweet and colorful and surprisingly charming.

A well-themed but out of place mini-land.

By and large, the new Storybook Circus was cute and incredibly well themed, but it just seemed strangely out of place, it's prime location creating a jarring transition between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. I particularly liked the look and detail of the train station. Following our flight, Barnstormer was next (which I'd never ridden before) and then we discovered another surprise: a ten minute wait for the Speedway. Ten minutes! Unheard of. Just moments behind us, it seemed as if every other parent realized the line was short and jumped in. 

It'll be very interesting to see if route of the classic Tomorrowland Speedway is in fact altered in order to meet the unique design and construction needs of the upcoming Shanghai Disneyland transplant, the Tron Lightcycles Run. The acreage used for the raceway is really quite large. Unlike Disneyland's Autopia, it is not part of a complex network of attractions that would require major work to make more space available for expansion. If they had to, those creative Imagineers could come up with a way to make it work- even in Disneyland. Check out this proposed but never built attraction, the Atlantis Expedition.

Mom and Dad get a "mini-date" and ride alone.

If there was ever a classic Disneyland attraction still found in Florida that should finally return to Anaheim, it's the iconic Tomorrowland WEDway Peoplemover / Transit Authority PeopleMover. I love this ride! It's an old school favorite, full of atmosphere, refreshingly different from everything else in the Magic Kingdom, and it is just plain fun. 

Unlike at Disneyland, it's still a world on the move here.

In many ways, the Retro Disneyland Tomorrowland feel is found in Florida now. Carousel of Progress is still around, the striking Rocket/Star/Astro Jets are still circling high above the land, and the atmosphere and feel of the place is cool and clean, vintage 1967 New Tomorrowland

All that's missing is the classic Adventure Through Inner Space. I'd easily give up Buzz Lightyear's attraction for a trip through the Mighty Microscope on the Atommobile! The Peoplemover is as fun as I remembered it to be, and the kids loved it, and to bring back one classic attraction not powered by an animated character would be a good thing. To sum it up, Florida's Tomorrowland easily bests that of the land of the future in California. But each still have a long list of needed improvements.

The area surrounding Ariel's Undersea Adventure 
reminded me of the former 20k Leagues Under the Sea.
Coincidence or not?

Early evening was settling in, and we were getting close to the last activity of the day, our meal at Be Our Guest. With some time left for a few more attractions, we chose a handful of Fantasyland classics: a spin on the Carousel, a Mad Tea Party "competition" (ladies in one cup, gentlemen in another), and a happy journey with Winnie the Pooh- to go along with our ride with Ariel. 

The Classics are there for good reason.

I can still hear her giggle-
as Grandpa got sick to his stomach across the way.

Finally it was about time to check in for our dinner reservation. As I mentioned earlier, each of the four adults chose one restaurant as their "must dine" location. Be Our Guest was my choice, and aside from one aspect, I was not disappointed. 

A terrific way to end a terrific day.

It's with good reason that just about every review of the Magic Kingdom's beautiful New Fantasyland includes a glowing review of the park's hard to get into restaurant. Ultimately, Be Our Guest is not just a restaurant. It is also a walk through attraction and an exclusive character meet and greet. From the initial bridge at the check in desk to the farthest corner of the restaurant, detail is piled upon detail, making this eatery a necessary experience for anyone who loves the Beauty and the Beast animated film. The only piece missing was that extravagant "E Ticket" next door- with a dinner guest only line to the front of the attraction.

Of our four different adult meal choices, three were considered very good and one good. We dined in the West Wing, much to my pleasure. I wanted that location but didn't want to scare the kids, so I did not request it. We took our chances, ended up in the dark dining room, and everyone did well. Wine was an added bonus. We took time to relax and to explore each of the rooms. It was close to a two hour experience. (Had The Little Mermaid ride had this level of attention to detail, it would have resulted in an attraction the classic film deserves.)

I would easily eat there again except for the fact the new dining plan now makes it about $55 per person not including a glass of wine. I'm sorry, but there is no restaurant at any theme park worth that price. It's now an unfortunate "one and done".

Last look, last time.

As we exited the park, our timing couldn't have been worse. With the evening crowd for the fireworks, it took us awhile to get of out the Magic Kingdom, but we did have a chance to use the bypass. Thankfully, we reached our resort bus right as the last firework burst, and we were soon on our way home.

Post trip all four of us voted this first Magic Kingdom day our favorite day of the trip.  We tallied sixteen attractions in all and two (needed) sit down meals. We'd return the next day to catch some favorites and a few other attractions. For now, we needed a good night's sleep.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)