September 28, 2018

Changing With the Seasons

There's a new season at Walt Disney World! Summer ends quicker, and the activities surrounding Fall begin right away. The Epcot Food and Wine Festival has kicked in and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is already going. Christmas is right around the corner for the Disney resorts as well. Change, change, and more change.

Change is coming to the parks. Some good and some a bit questionable. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is now about a year away. Guardians of the Galaxy are invading the Universe of Energy building, and Tron is making its way from Shanghai Disneyland to the Florida's Magic Kingdom. Some things may seem strange or out of place. You never know what the Disney suits will do in order to keep us hardcore fans returning! Even if you're not headed to the parks soon, change is coming. You can feel it in the weather.

Has change been good?

If you've been even the slightest bit spiritually minded, you can sense change has been all around you and more is to come. It’s the way it always is as we follow Jesus. The Holy Spirit is always at work in our world doing new things.    
It can be scary, and yet God is in control, He’s always in control. I’m reminded of the words of the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah:

“Look, I am about to do something new. Now it begins to happen! Do you not recognize it? Yes, I will make a road in the desert and paths in the wilderness. The wild animals of the desert honor me, the jackals and ostriches, because I put water in the desert and streams in the wilderness, to quench the thirst of my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself, so they might praise me.”
(Isaiah 43:19-21)

All this change, I wonder a lot about what's going on. I'll ask you the same questions I have been asking myself, starting with this primary one:  Why are you a believer in Jesus?

Answering this question is one that can give me grief. When I look at what the followers of God did in both the Old and New Testaments and I see the difference between how they live and how I live, it's easy to question if I really am a believer. They put their lives on the line every day, opening their mouths to share the truth of Jesus' own words as He being the only way to Heaven. They lived their live sin a way that meant being a Jesus follower required always being ready to share what they believed and being willing to move from place to place as God led so they could tell the Good News to as many people as possible. It also meant if necessary, they were called to die for what they believed. 

What's missing here since this has seen change?

So, I'll ask you as I've asked myself, 
“What seems missing?  "What is next?” 

All too often I can find that I go my own way with my own plans, and I expect them to do good things and bring praise to God for his goodness and his faithfulness. When this happens, I find I can get disappointed or even frustrated that things didn't do as planned. I'm starting to finally discover that God has a better way.

The truth is our obedience to God brings true success and lasting impact. Let me tell you why this works the way it does.

Jesus explained several times that He only did what He saw the Father doing.

He said it to the Jews who were persecuting Him (John 5:16-19)
He said it to the Pharisees who hated him and questioned his authority (John 8:28)
He said it to His Disciples (John 14)

Why is it so important that we are in tune with God- to hear Him and obey Him?

 “If you love me, keep my commands.” – That’s pretty direct, no bones about it straightforward! These are Jesus' own words out of the book of John, Chapter 15 verse 15.

You can probably figure out what I'm asking myself after this!

Sometimes change requires demolishing the past
in order to embrace the new.

God speaks to us in His Word, the Bible, and also through our times of prayerful intimacy with Him. He also speaks through others, through dreams and signs, and lastly through circumstances- all in agreement His Written Word.

How does this all work? 

Let's take a look at Jesus' own words from the book of John 16:7-15:
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (The Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me;  about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

What's happening in these verses? What does Jesus mean?

God Himself goes before us- doing the preparation work that needs to happen in people's lives (making them aware of their sin; making them aware of God's righteousness and His sacrifice to pay for their disobedience from God's laws; and letting them become aware of God's coming judgment to those who believe and those who don't. That means eternal life with God for those who believed Jesus died on their behalf and rose from the dead- but eternal separation from God and damnation in Hell for those people who reject God's payment on their behalf).
Jesus says the Holy Spirit will speak to us, directing us in how we should live and whom we should share the Good News. We do not have to do this in our own strength! He will direct us- the pressure is off. What a relief!
God's Holy Spirit is in us! This gives us the power we need to do His work. It's not like we have to drum up the strength and have the right words and do the right things.

You never know what adventures lie ahead 
as you step out in obedience to God's words!

In order to really see God at work and be a part of that, we must spend the time to have our own encounter with our very personal God. 
This takes:

Look at Moses. He leads the people out of Egypt and watches God part the Red Sea to make this happen. Then he sees God give the people food in the desert- bread and quail from Heaven. The people see God give Moses the Ten Commandments- the very rules He gives his people so they can live lives that honor Him as well as avoiding them hurting themselves and others. Not a bad display of God's great love for them! 

So Moses and the people have seen so much! But what happens later?

"Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp, at a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. Anyone seeking the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting that was outside the camp. And when Moses went out to the tent, all the people would get up and stand at the entrance to their tents and watch Moses until he entered the tent. And whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. When all the people would see the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people, each one at the entrance of his own tent, would rise and worship. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, the way a person speaks to a friend. 

Then Moses would return to the camp, but his servant, Joshua son of Nun, a young man, did not leave the tent. Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have been saying to me, ‘Bring this people up,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. But you said, ‘I know you by name, and also you have found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your way, that I may know you, that I may continue to find favor in your sight. And see that this nation is your people.” And the Lord said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And Moses said to him, “If your presence does not go with us, do not take us up from here. For how will it be known then that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not by your going with us, so that we will be distinguished, I and your people, from all the people who are on the face of the earth?” The Lord said to Moses, “I will do this thing also that you have requested, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” And Moses said, “Show me your glory.”
(Exodus 33: 7- 18)

And in the verses that follow, we discover God did just that. Sometimes like Moses we have to to ask for God to display His Glory!  He loves us- but He also wants to know we love Him and we want to spend time with Him. Yes, He is that personal and involved in our lives.

(Did you notice Joshua - the future leader- never leaves the tent? Are you like him? Waiting for God’s presence?)

Experiencing God is addicting- and it's empowering-  reminding us of our relationship and our mission as those who follow Jesus. Let me ask you as I've asked myself, “When is the last time you have waited and asked for God to reveal Himself, to speak to you, to minister to you as you ministered to Him with your time?” 

God's presence can go with us as well as we do His work- and He will give us rest when we need it.  If you're like me, you get so busy trying to survive and doing the work of the Kingdom that you can forget Who you are serving and that He desires relationship with us!

The true transformation comes as we draw close to God.

Encountering God changes your life in ways you can't imagine. Remember when Peter, James, and John meet with Jesus on the mountain and Moses and Elijah show up? (Luke 9:34-36- known as Jesus' Transfiguration)

"As he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him!” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. So they kept silent and told no one at that time anything of what they had seen."

Can you imagine what this encounter did to the three disciples? 
As believers, we should constantly:

Encounter the Living God, Be Changed by the Living God, and Be Used by the Living God. 

God has wonderful things in store for us as we press on and stay focused on Him! Its' also called Abiding in Him- something we should do. Let me close with Jesus' words once more:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."  (John 15:1-8)

As we stop and listen to Him, He’ll tell us what to do- and He will work through our obedience to bring glory to His Name. 

We are the Branches but He is the Vine! Our greatest of plans are empty- But if they are His plans and we're obedient, they bring lasting results!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

September 27, 2018

Zoo Day

Time for a bit of fun! Nothing like an afternoon excursion to the zoo to brighten even the very darkest day. Who do you think is having a better time?

September 26, 2018

Blame It on My Youth

This oldie but goodie is going through my head today. It's been recorded by many folks, but Aaron Neville's version of the Nat King Cole classic Blame It on My Youth is just a warm and lovely rendition! Jamie Cullem (on his Twenty Something disc) covers it as well, giving it a modern spin without losing its old fashioned charm. 

Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman wrote this in 1934. You might recognize Edward Heyman as the man who also penned When Fall in Love, a song recorded by so many but especially beautiful by the late Karen Carpenter

And now, the lyrics of young love:

If I expected love when first we kissed,
Blame it on my youth.
If only for you I did exist,
Blame it on my youth.
I believed in everything,
Like a child of three,
You meant more than anything,
All the world to me!
If you were on my mind all night and day,
Blame it on my youth.
If I forgot to eat and sleep and pray,
Blame it on my youth.
If I cried a little bit
When first I learned the truth,
Don't blame it on my heart,
Blame it on my youth.

September 24, 2018

Disney World After A Decade Away: Day Seven - Disney's Hollywood Studios

The dreaded last day of vacation, and when that last day is at Walt Disney World after a decade away, it feels even more sobering. Why? Going to Walt Disney World anyway you shape it is one expensive vacation. Big bucks, so you want to get as much out of it as possible. 

Sure, I'll follow this up with another post on some cost saving ideas, but it is still going to take a significant outlay of hard earned cash to make even the most frugal trip happen. Totally First World problems, right? 

We had only a few precious hours before we had to be checking in for our flight at Orlando International Airport, so what better place to spend it than going to Disney's true half day park, the remnant known as Disney's Hollywood Studios. We were at the gates at opening to make the most of it. 

Be gone, Big Hat!

Walking into the park was a mixed bag. I love seeing the Chinese Theater again. It's about time that Big Ole Hat (this is a family site, after all, or I'd say BAH) was gone. Now, you can once again see what the Imagineers had in mind- Hollywood in its glory days. Then, I began noticing how faded the building were, how poorly they were maintained and how the street itself had so little shade or tree cover. There was no Red Car Trolley to found be as in the rebuilt California Adventure. That addition gives the park kinetic energy and life. 

Sid's is always a fun stop- when you have more time.

How different this park felt than when I first visited at opening! I'd estimate 90% of the park is gone or at least drastically changed. (Wanna check out the history of this fascinating little park? Take a look at this lengthy post sharing concept art, my vintage photos, and more. 25 Years of Change!)

OK- Mickey does belong in the park
but not at the expense of the Great Movie Ride!

The majestic but lovely Chinese Theater is a fitting "castle" for the park. It was perfectly cast in its role, looking great from a distance and wonderful up close. The detail is strong, setting the mood for adventures to come. The hat is gone, but the stage needs to disappear as well. Perhaps in the future that is something in the planning. 

At this point in time, we only had a few hours, so we had to plan our Fast Passes well. This meant Rock n Rollercoaster followed by a hopefully quick queue for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Our other choice was Star Tours, as it is a favorite of my grandson, and I wanted to make sure he didn't miss out due to our limited hours. 

Only the music headbangs here.

Since the coaster height limit was too much for the kids, we split our party, and they used a golden ticket for Toy Story Midway Mania later in the morning. Big hint here- it was about four days prior to our departure that I was able to snag Fast Passes for the beloved Toy Story ride. It had been sold out the entire planning period. Always check at the last minute! You never know what becomes available if you time it right.

Time for a new act.

Continuing our three hour tour (a three hour tour). Do you get the reference? If not, do a little research.) The weather wasn't getting rough, but it was already pretty hot and humid. No matter, we hit the hub, the plaza, whatever they call it here and took a quick look at the theater, future home of Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, the replacement for the epic original, The Great Movie Ride. (Why Oh Why?)

Gertie and Indy make quite a pair.

This is where the charm of the park kicked in, almost making me forget there is just so little left of the place. It's a beautiful area, filled with the quirkiness of Old Hollywood without the shady, seedy side you find today. 

While some of our crew got a little breakfast and a drink, my daughter and I jumped on a limo to get to the Aerosmith concert in time. The nighttime sky wasn't as darkened as I remembered, but the ride was as smooth and thrilling as always. Still a winner, even though they desperately need a new band in there. (No, not a Marvel makeover. I said a new band. If you want a ride like that, you have to -unfortunately- head to Epcot in a couple of years.)

Time to anger a few parents. We took the kids on Tower. They seemed a bit apprehensive, but we assured them it would be ok. Let's say even though it really wasn't their favorite, it didn't cause any meltdowns. Man, they are easy to travel with! ("Nice job!" said Grandpa.) 

As for me, this version remains the definitive one. Even without the Fifth Dimension room, everything about it screams Headliner Attraction. The whole approach down Sunset Blvd., the correct placement in the park, the spookiness of the boiler room- and the cars that work like a real elevator- make it top notch. Does Twilight Zone Tower of Terror have a place in a park that will be dominated by Star Wars and Toy Story? Absolutely- but it is time for enhancements and refreshed special effects. Well worth the needed investment however. 

It was amazing how quickly we covered two big "E Ticket" attractions! And how strange that there was so little left to do in the park. With just about a half hour before our reservation for Star Tours, we walked a bit enjoying the scenery. 
Light speed to Batuu!

Once we arrived at the entrance, the line was still fairly short, so we saved our tickets for a second trip after the first. Smart choice on our part! My granddaughter had never been on the flight. Gotta say, it was pretty sweet to hear her big brother encourage her and give her riding tips before we took off. She loved the journey!

Certainly, we will see him again after this attraction closes.

By the time we walked out, Star Tours had a healthy line, so our plans paid off. Using our Fast Pass, we got in line and happily had an entirely different trip, including a preview of Batuu. Nice touch and a great way to sell a return visit to the Florida park. Appropriate synergy for once.

Pricey but fun.
Should be on its way to Cars Land in revised form!

After the kids fashioned their own light saber, we walked around, and I spotted Sci-Fi Dine In, one of my favorite places in the park. We had not been able to get a reservation earlier, but when I noticed the door was open, I took my son-in-law inside to get a glimpse of what I had told him about. It was absolutely empty with all the lights on. 

Truthfully, I don't think I'll be able to get a reservation next trip either. The park is not prepared for the onslaught of visitors coming when Galaxy's Edge opens up next year. There's a massive and obvious shortage of places to eat, shady spaces, and most of all, attractions to eat up the crowds. When you add in old and tired shows, you can be sure you'll be reading stories of disastrous days at Disney's Hollywood Studios or whatever the new name will be.

If you're not a big show guy, there's not much to do.

From here on out, the park began to show these weaknesses. My son-in-law and I went to find some food, something beyond a Starbucks snack to eat. Although we walked all the way around Echo Lake, not a thing was open, reinforcing my observations made above. 

Bad transition.
Really surprising this is the best they could come up with!

For as much emphasis and effort the suits seem to put into building new restaurants, the results are not so good at the Studios. The Base Line Tap House may have a decent menu and fill the void for beer flights, but little thought seemed to go into the design. The exterior on its own is pretty nice, but next to the Sci-Fi sharing a wall? It's horrible. Adding a mock third story to the Tap House would have created a better visual transition. Yep, the look of Disney Springs is just amazing, but they dropped the ball here.

No resistance here. 

While we were busy looking for food, the rest of the crew stood in line for some Star Wars themed show/mini-parade. As a long time park fan, I knew this to be filler, but you can tell by the look on this fan's face (above), that as far as he was concerned, this might as well have been a full bore "E Ticket" attraction. I can only imagine how he will feel about Galaxy's Edge IF he can actually get into the land and ride the two attractions. (And what will they do with Star Tours? And will they get rid of Launch Bay?) This is just another reminder that Disney made the right move to buy the franchise and place a full blown land in the park(s). It's the right park for the addition here, but it should have been the centerpiece of a 3rd Disney park in California. 

Coming to a Studios park near you!

For the last attraction of the day, the kids and the ladies went on Toy Story Mania. The guys stayed behind and went into Walt Disney Presents, browsed the exhibits and at the urging of a cast member, posed with an invisible celebrity. It was an odd bit of cast member interaction, bordering between plain old weird and strangely disconcerting. Clearly, the guy loved his job.

A good sport!

As I mentioned in another post, the new Toy Story Land was not yet open. We missed it by two weeks. Oh well, sounds like they'll fix up some of their mistakes before our next visit. 

We left the park right after everyone returned from their last ride. It was still relatively early in the day, and the park was filling up with guests who had chosen to sleep in. For us, it was off to the airport and our trip home.

How would I wrap up our Disney World trip after a decade away? Expensive, fun, and well worth it. Regardless of the constant downgrade in service, the truth is, there's nothing like Walt Disney World as a whole. We just won't go every few years as we used to. 

Disneyland is great for a couple of days, but it's no resort. (I'll go into direct comparisons in another post and how to save money in yet another.)

For all the glitz and glamour, Disney World is also a place with problems that may be fixable if there's a wholesale change in mindset from the suits. If not, expect more of the same tension between what is and what could/should have been. Would I go with my family again? Absolutely! A Disney trip is about family fun and making memories. Sometimes even the harshest critic finds there's tears in his eyes as he takes time to notice the people with him.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

September 21, 2018

Voici ton message de Dieu

"Car Dieu a tant aimé le monde qu'il a donné son Fils unique, afin que quiconque croit en lui ne périsse point, mais qu'il ait la vie éternelle. Dieu, en effet, n'a pas envoyé son Fils dans le monde pour qu'il juge le monde, mais pour que le monde soit sauvé par lui."

          Jean 3:16-17

September 20, 2018

Karen Carpenter at the World's Fair

Fans of Richard and Karen Carpenter should not have been too surprised to find them playing at the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane, Washington. After all, Carpenters played so many tour dates during their all too short career together. Much more than music stars of today would have done. 

During this time, they were the number one duo in the entire world, playing to sold out venues in Japan, the United Kingdom, all through Europe and the United States. Their first greatest hits disc, The Singles 1969-1973 was a top of the charts smash, as were the previous four albums. Later in the year, their cover of Please Mr. Postman would hit the top of the U.S. charts and become yet another worldwide smash.

In an odd bit of personal information, I had the opportunity to see the duo but instead went to Walt Disney World for one week. Had I known Karen would be gone less than a decade later, I would have changed my decision. (Thanks to my friends at A&M Corner for discovering this image!)

September 19, 2018

Disney, India, and Epcot

Big rumor going around today about Disney Imagineers placing an India pavilion in World Showcase at Epcot. Of course, it's been a consideration! Not only does it have one of the world's oldest civilizations, it would bring in some new perspective on the largely Eurocentric park.

Those beloved insiders at the WDWMagic boards have been talking about it for sometime as an expansion in addition to what's coming next (Brazil). As usual, they are first to break the news. 

Who wouldn't want to see a smaller version of this
grace the World Showcase lagoon?

Alain Littaye at Disney and More had this story to share way back in 2014 about Disney's attempts to break in to television and film there (as well as Consumer Products) and the hope of a new Magic Kingdom. You can read his detailed article here.

To stay updated, watch those Magic boards. It's a great inside source from folks with an al out perfect track record. Can't ask for much more than that!

(Top photo copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 18, 2018

Eaten Alive

Its' a dog eat dog kind of world, isn't it? 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

These couple of sentences from Paul's letter to the Philippians cuts me to the very core some days... 

September 17, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns- in Time for an Epcot Attraction

Just this morning, Walt Disney Pictures released the full official trailer for their much anticipated film, Mary Poppins Returns. While no one will ever fill the shoes of Julie Andrews, I must say that the performance of Emily Blunt looks to be quite faithful to the original tone, and therefore quite charming. 

Seeing Mr. Dick Van Dyke dance is an emotional thrill, sure to be one of the highlights of the film! Can't wait to see it!

Could it be that the trailer gives some insight to a potential dark ride at the Epcot's U.K. pavilion? I'd like to think so, but it seems the suits may have decided on a simple flat ride, a carousel, to represent one of their best loved movies. 

Check out the above video! Should they change their minds and let the Imagineers run free with an attraction version that would look somewhat like that of Tony Baxter's, I'd be the first to say "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!"
(Look here for an article.)

September 15, 2018

Tiki Saturday

Certainly, it's a Tiki kind of Saturday! As I finish up my last day's trip report for Walt Disney World, I thought I'd share an image not shown from my One Day, Two Park, 26 Attractions time at Disneyland on July 5.

The Enchanted Tiki Room has endured as one of my favorite attractions. Imagineering was just hitting its peak in those early years, but no one had an idea where it would truly go when the park debuted this show in 1963. 

On a hot day, I entered the garden waiting to hear the sounds of the tropics and watch the charming show. It was a fun house and still quite fun! I took many more photos than this, but especially once you enlarge it, it's still beautiful in there. If you want to read about my Commando day at the Disneyland Resort and pick up a few tips, go here.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 13, 2018

California Adventure's Spooky Transformation

Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort keeps getting more and more interesting. Used to be the Haunted Mansion's Nightmare Before Christmas and Space Mountain's Ghost Galaxy were the only real holiday focused attractions to be found. Not any more!

In an smartly designed effort to disperse the crowds- all the more important next year when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge has opened- the suits and Imagineers have cooked up fresh ways to get guests to go to California Adventure instead of Disneyland

Granted, the original Twilight Zone Tower of Terror would have been a (super)natural one for a makeover, but Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! now get transformed into something called Monsters After Dark. From what I can see from on line videos, guests only get to see Rocket and Baby Groot in this version- a definite step down from seeing all the Guardians. That said, it still looks like a fun diversion for the locals. 

Not to be left out in the sun, Cars Land and Buena Vista Street are transformed into spooking looking locations as well. If you can't make it to California to see it all, take a great photographic tour from the folks at the terrific Westcoaster site. The pics are just terrific! Take a look at their update. Be forewarned, though. You'll want to read every update afterwards!

(Photographs copyright Westcoaster.)

September 12, 2018

Indiana Jones Still Rocks the Parks

Disney Imagineer Chuck Ballew created this thrilling piece of concept art for the Indiana Jones Adventure in 1995. Looking at this, you can easily envision what its like to ride this attraction and the sense of suspense and unexpected surprise all around you. 

Indiana Jones remains an iconic hero, and fans of the films and theme parks still go wild for this rough and tumble jeep journey deep in California's Disneyland. It's hard to imagine Adventureland without it being there, isn't it? Thankfully, West Coast fans don't have to worry. 

East Coast fans are still asking when Indy will make his Florida debut- and so are fans of Disneyland Paris. They should have received this epic ride and instead got a quick off the shelf roller coaster. Perhaps now that Disney owns the Parc outright, they'll invest the cash to bring the classic to life.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 11, 2018

Remembering Our Heroes

God bless the heroes that gave their lives on this day many years ago. Misguided cowards of Radical Islam tried to destroy the things that have always made America great: valor, honor, love of God and country, sacrifice and valuing others above ourselves. We will never forgot!

September 10, 2018

Olivia Newton-John: Top Ten and Beyond

What hasn't been said about Olivia Newton-John? Not only does she seem to be one of the nicest musical artists of the last several decades, her artistry goes far beyond what meets the eye. Here's a look at some of my favorites, Top Ten and More:

"Deeper Than A River" (1992): Though long past her hit making days, this country tinged ballad had all the right elements- and it had me looking once again at a vocalist I'd mostly forgotten at that point in time. Sometimes an artist's most interesting work is when they've moved on from Pop Radio hits.

"Suddenly" (1980): Yes, Cliff Richard and Olivia together. Always a winning combination.

"I Can't Help It" (1980): This duet with the Bee Gees younger brother, the late Andy Gibb. It unexpectedly draws you in.  It's the perfect match of breathy vocals from both and a very delicate but simply effective arrangement. A piece of perfect late night ear candy I still listen to on my I pod. Made my very long and lonely evening drives on a delivery route all the more enjoyable.

"Hopelessly Devoted to You" (1978): Did you expect I'd leave this out? No way! The Grease solo smash- still love it to this day. You just have to not like music to not appreciate the retro coolness of this record.

"Dancin'" (1980): This 40's meets 80's blend with punk rockers The Tubes shocked me upon first watch at the movies (Xanadu). But I just loved it immediately. Layer upon layer of Olivia vocals with a swinging beat and big band style. Guilty perfection. Who could ask for more! (Well, maybe a full version of the song with The Tubes edited out?!?)

Friends Olivia and Karen. 
Just imagine their once talked about duet!

"Summertime" (2004): From the Indigo-Women of Song project, an album often overlooked in her lengthy collection. I had wrongly thought we needed to leave the basement register vocals to Olivia's friend Karen Carpenter. I was wrong. Olivia hits bottom in a good way, and the end result is a perfectly respectable take on an American classic. A very nice listen than holds its own with all the other versions. 

"Make A Move On Me" (1981): From the Physical album. The keyboard works hard against a spunky and convincing Olivia begging for something better to do- "Won't you spare me all the charms, and take me in your arms." This song had men everywhere getting in line to take her up on the offer.

"Dancin' Round and Round" (1978): From the first album post-Grease, Olivia threw in this gentle country cut. She didn't leave old fans behind, she just brought new ones along with this newest release. All around a Totally Hot album.

"Lovers" (1975): To some, this was a toss away song and album. Yet this quiet tale of the effects of love lost was quite mature in the midst of songs about puppies, brotherly devotion, and summer love. It still holds up to this day.

"The Way You Look Tonight" (1989): After the failed attempt at cashing in once too many times on the nice-girl-gone-bad image (Soul Kiss), Olivia returned to a nice girl as a new mommy. The home project brought her one of her most beautiful albums, Warm and Tender. Nice, very nice.

"I Honestly Love You" (1974 and 1998) Both versions are classic. We all know the original, but with Babyface playing and singing in the background, their remake is just as great. Dare I say that the 1998 video is even better than the original?  

"You're the One That I Want" (1978): I couldn't help it. It's pure fun, pure magic- and who can resist singing along with the chorus?  C'mon. You know you want to.

Tapestry of Nations at Epcot

Epcot's Tapestry of Nations Parade- what a winner! Our family could not imagine a better way in order to celebrate the new millennium than taking a visit to Walt Disney World and its most futurist theme park. 

As you can tell from the video above by super fan Martin Smith, Tapestry of Nations had it all: a compelling score, creatively designed aesthetics and an enthusiastic crowd making it all a very lively event. Our family particularly loved the "clock drums". 

Traveling through World Showcase each evening, the parade made its way down the promenade. It was the perfect beginning of a perfect end to the day, a nighttime showing of the classic Illuminations show. 

(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company; Video copyright Martin Smith.)

September 4, 2018

Disney World After A Decade Away: Day Six- Animal Kingdom

Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and Festival of the Lion King. These were the top items on our list for our second and final day at Animal Kingdom

In many ways, this was the day I was looking forward to the most. We were nearing the end of our trip as the following and last day we would visit the sorely truncated, currently under reconstruction, Disney's Hollywood Studios and its less than sufficient number of attractions. Then, sadly, it was off to the Orlando Airport. 

The size of the floating mountains 
match the size of the crowds.

We had a leisurely morning, letting everyone sleep in after a very long and wonderful day at the Magic Kingdom. Apparently, it just wasn't enough sleep for me.

As we strolled into Pandora to redeem our Fast Passes for Flight of Passage, the crowds were so thick it was almost unsafe. Wasn't too long until we got separated, and trying to find each other was very difficult- and worrisome when you have two little kids with you. 

Most of our crew finally made it to the station at the beginning of the queue, and we expected to do the child swap option as we already knew my granddaughter was about two inches too short to ride. But we couldn't find half of them. And I was just told they could not walk the Fast Pass line with us, instead we would have to split up and take two separate times through to get the five of us all to ride. I was not happy at all, and I made it known. Surveying the swelling crowd to find our other half, I blurted out "This is ridiculous!" It was not my finest moment and a not too subtle reminder that God still has a lot of work left to do in me.

Now for the real rant. Think about this: Disney suits know they are going to have massive crowds for their top drawer stellar projects. Especially when they go into sorely under built parks such as Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Why, oh why, then do they stop short and design the area by throwing in one mega "F Ticket" attraction, one with much less in desirability and call it good? Listen- if you think Pandora is a mess to navigate, just wait until Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens in one park with so few attractions and in another park with narrow pathways and much smaller acreage. Rant - and warning -over.

Incredible detail wherever you look.

Sharing the bad news with the other half of our group, we split up and entered into the queue. Even with our Fast Passes, it took about 20 minutes to get on the attraction. Compared to the three hour plus wait for those in the Standby line, it was a breeze. 

As we got closer to beginning the ride, my wife was apprehensive, my grandson excited, and I was skeptical. Would the actual ride live up to all the hype about it? Let's be honest, nobody does hype like the Disney publicity machine. 

Surprisingly, the answer is "Yes"!

Pandora's centerpiece Flight of Passage is at once a beautiful, thrilling, and atmospheric attraction. Is it worth the sometimes posted four hour wait? No. Actually, in my mind nothing on the property is- or at any other theme park for that matter. But it is stunning in its scope and scale. There's not a single piece of it I would dissect and redo another way. The Imagineers outdid themselves with this new attraction. Was it due to the demands of James Cameron, the film's creative source? Perhaps. Regardless, Flight of Passage is the new must see on the Disney property for good reason. 

We all loved our flight.  My grandson and I were able to ride twice, and the second flight was just as thrilling and repeatable as the first. Now only if Na'vi River Journey had that same repeatability!

It's new home- where it always belonged.

Escaping the crowds of Pandora, it was time for the Festival of the Lion King, a favorite of my grandkids for two reasons: First, they loved it last visit, and second, they love the animated series based on those characters. I found I preferred Nemo, but there's no denying the performers put their heart and soul into the production.

Still a crowd pleaser!

Our first day at Animal Kingdom had a big disappointment: my favorite Walt Disney World attraction was down for a good portion of the day. Thankfully, today, Expedition: Everest was up and running! 

Even the approach to the attraction is compelling!

My wife and I were the only two in our group that had ridden it. Our granddaughter was too short this trip, so my wife took her for a treat and a bit of shopping while the rest of us rode. (She's a trouper! Not once did she complain about waiting or about being too small to ride.) Our Fast Pass wasn't for about a half an hour, but the line was pretty short, so we decided to go for it and hopefully ride twice.

One of this daughter's all time favorite attractions is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (In fact, it's become a family joke to take a picture of it and send it to her when one of us visits the parks and she's not with us. Even family friends have gotten in on the act. Of course, nothing beat the time we sent her one from Disneyland Paris... while she was battling a blizzard back home!) 

Anyway, I've long described Everest to her as "Big Thunder on Steroids". So, she was thrilled to finally ride it for herself, having passed it up last trip to focus on the rides all four of them could do together. 

So, off we went, the two younger men rode together and my daughter and I took the row behind them. I couldn't really see my brave grandsons's face to read how he was doing. I mean, the climb up this mountain is high- and the exposure to the open air makes it seem even higher than it is. And what about that backwards segment? It's very different than watching a video of the ride, something we'd done many, many times prior to the trip, just to see if he was ready. 

A T-shirt from Grandpa commemorating his first ride!
(Her's too- but no T-shirt.)

Needless to say, everyone thought it was a winner! My daughter declared it to be a "serious roller coaster", and she loved the drop down the mountain into the major winding turns around it. As for my grandson, he wanted to ride it again- this time with me. I was very happy to oblige. 

The Maharaja Jungle Trek. A beautiful hidden gem.

We had time for one more attraction before it was necessary to leave the park and make our late afternoon lunch appointment at Disney Springs. We opted for the trail through India to see some bats, tigers, and actually, one of the most beautiful remote spots in all of Animal Kingdom. 

It truly is a shame when I hear folks go to Disney's Animal Kingdom without taking a small segment of time to experience the Jungle Trek or Gorilla Falls nature trail in Africa. These are some of the smaller attractions that take you away from a theme park and out into areas that feel remote. They certainly don't replace the need for larger show stoppers, but they are ones that are so worth the effort to experience. Think of them as the smaller walk through exhibits at Disneyland, adding atmosphere, value, and variety to an already solid line up. If you're an animal lover, these are something worth your time. If you're not but love Disney theme parks for their immersion, then you truly have to experience them to understand what love and care Imagineer Joe Rohde and his team did in bringing the animal world to life. (Want to know more about the amazing story behind Animal Kingdom? Read my seven part - to date- in depth series on the creation and evolution of the place. It's part trip report, photo journey, historical perspective and art gallery just filled with concept art. Part One begins here.)

We ended our time at Animal Kingdom by slowly walking through the lands as we journeyed back to the exit. Our destination: the highly rated Morimotos at Disney Springs, my daughter's pick for a sit down restaurant. As we stayed at the park longer than we intended, a ride in a Minnie Van was well worth the expense. 

Beautifully designed and executed environment!

What can I say about Morimoto's that you haven't already read? The Iron Chef's Disney World location serves up expensive and sumptuous food in an elegant and modern environment with touches of the old world hidden in places you'd least expect. From appetizers to entrees, the place and the plates were a treat for all your senses. Would I dine there again? Absolutely. If I had rated our restaurant choices on food alone, this would be the winner.

I think her name is Bunga.
Her beloved possession- her only souvenir- 
and only available at Animal Kingdom.

The rest of our evening was spent at Disney Springs, walking around and enjoying the wonderful atmosphere. Having taken the water taxis to Old Key West and elsewhere, it dawned on me that part of what makes Disney World so special is the abundance of travel options and resort hotels to visit as well as four very different parks. Cruising along the waterways day or night is just so special! Something you cannot find in California. 

Well, one more day to cover, and that would be our half day at Disney's Half Day park, yes, Hollywood Studios. We'd just miss the opening of Toy Story Land, but I still have an abundance of stories to tell. See you then!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)