"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Feeling The Magic....Lisa's Guest Blog :)

I am doing this guest blog because I just couldn’t let Jeffrey’s excellent tour guide skills go by without notice. We talked about our Disney trip for a long time. It had been five years since we’d gone for a whole week, and we spent a lot of enjoyable moments talking about all the things we wanted to do, where to stay and what to see so that we had the perfect trip.
I tend to be a control freak, and I have to be in charge of lots. Except vacations. Jeff does a lot of our vacation planning, and he is really good at it. By the time we leave to go to Disney, I get to not be in charge of anything. That’s a vacation in itself, but it also speaks to my trust for Jeffrey. I know that he will have everything taken care of so that while we are there, I can completely relax and know that we will have a fabulous time. Judging by how he geeked out over making a schedule and how many ways he could view and access our schedule, I think he enjoys that part of it.
When it came time to book the vacation, we had settled on a place to stay and even made our dinner plans. Jeff handled all of it, calling the resort and making all the arrangements. What I didn’t know is that he told them that we’d be celebrating our anniversary while we were there. We checked in on a Saturday afternoon and the cast member we dealt with gave us Happy Anniversary buttons to wear all week.
I almost cried. Here I am, married to a man who looks forward to going to a place that in my mind is home to all things Princess. He looks forward to spending a week with his family in the most magical place on Earth. And he told them it was our anniversary.
The week started off just right. Lots of cast members and guests gave us anniversary wishes. We had complimentary champagne at one restaurant and cupcakes with candles at another. We had a congratulatory call from Mickey and Minnie in Epcot. We even got a window seat at Ohana so we could see the Magic Kingdom fireworks over the castle. All of that was planned and perfectly carried out by Disney cast members, thanks to Jeffrey letting them know we were celebrating. It was all part of the Disney magic we expect.
But it was something else that happened at Ohana that really touched my heart. While we were walking to our table, we noticed that the man playing the ukulele happened to be singing our wedding song – Can’t Help Falling in Love by Elvis. We danced, not knowing we were actually joining other couples celebrating a new marriage or their own anniversaries. The ukulele player was very happy to learn that was our wedding song. He gave us leis and we went back to our table to enjoy dinner. It was of those moments I hope I’ll never forget.    
Thanks Disney, and thanks Jeffrey. You’ve both shown me yet again that sometimes the magic happens naturally, and sometimes special people make the magic happen.

Imagineering Oversight....or is it?

Before our trip to Disney, I bought an Imagineering Field Guide for each of the four Florida parks. I love these books, they are small, but packed with really interesting information about the thought processes that went into building the Disney theme parks. The books are written by Walt Disney Imagineering (it gives author credit to "The Imagineers" right on the cover) and are full of drawings and photos and inside info on the little details they work into everything they do. For a Disney Geek, these things are Nirvana.

One of the central themes of these books is the continuity they try to keep in place within and even between the parks. They work hard to make sure you aren't jarred by something "out of place." They went so far as to make the top of the Tower of Terror ride's architecture look vaguely Middle Eastern because it was visible from Morroco in Epcot's World Showcase. They even do things that I'm convinced are for their own amusement, such as locating all the bathrooms in Columbia Harbour House, which straddles Fantasyland and Liberty Square, in the Fantasyland half because there was no indoor plumbing in the time period represented by Liberty Square. Their efforts aren't always so grand or so obscure, mostly they just use architecture and landscaping to obscure views of things that don't fit in with the story they are trying to tell in a particular place.

I think I found a pretty good example of where they failed to hide the bleed-over from over stories with this picture.

This is a view of Space Mountain and the entrance to Tomorrowland as seen from the Swiss Family Treehouse, complete with old-timey gas light. I thought at first I had "caught" the Imagineers falling down on the job, how hard would it be to have a wall here and face the opening a different direction? But after thinking about it, I think I've underestimated the Disney crew.

Walt Disney's spirit is alive and well among the Imagineers; just look at the whole of Walt DisneyWorld, built entirely after Walt's death, for proof. Walt Disney was a man of seeming contradiction, but in actuality he was very wise. He was nostalgic to an amazing degree, recreating the world as it was in his time and before in his theme parks. He loved the past and studied history and longed to see the world hold onto the best parts of our heritage. He was also one of the world's greatest all-time Futurists. Walt believed in that "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" and he worked hard to see mankind progress as far and as fast as possible. He was the best kind of idealist, the kind of man who sees a wonderful future as possible and tries to make it so. He had one foot in the past and one in the future, but he lived in the now, taking the best of history to inform his attempts to build a great tomorrow. In order to think and act like this, Walt Disney needed to be always ready to act today, to "carpe diem," to make the most of the moment no matter what the naysayers said or what was generally assumed to be possible. But he also had to have an appreciation of the fact that the future would always be there, that what we do today never stays as it is, but changes over time. He understood that he needed to not only prepare for this fact, but take advantage of it. When Walt built Disneyland, he commented that the park would never be the same, that it would grow and change and become more beautiful as the trees he planted before opening day grew over time.

It's this spirit that I think the Imagineers understood and I at first did not when they built the Swiss Family Treehouse with a view of Tomorrowland. To face the view away from the park would give guests a sight "behind the scenes" and into an area of concrete and parking lots and warehouses and sheds. Not very magical. To face the room towards the park in another direction would guarantee that some sort of "intrusion" into the story would always be there. Look again at that picture and I think you'll see the Imagineers took the best possible route. The view of Space Mountain is partially hidden by trees. I bet that when this treehouse was first constructed, much more of the park was visible. I also bet that within about ten years, as those trees grow even taller, that view of Tomorrowland will no longer exist. I think that was the idea all along. It took me a while, but I finally did step outside the box and look with eyes to the past, present and future. That's what Walt did all the time, as a matter of course. I want to get to the point where I do that as well.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Memory Overload

We're home and re-entering the real world. I was looking forward even before we left to coming on here and writing all about my experiences, but now that it's time I'm in a sort of vapor lock. I've downloaded all the pictures from our cameras, yes we took two. Not including what is on our phones, we have over 1800 pictures. That's a lot to sort through, but it doesn't begin to touch on the real problem.

My brain is full.

I started lying awake sorting through my mental collection of Disney thoughts while we were still at the Caribbean Beach Resort. I didn't sleep really well because I spent half the night awake processing what had happened the day before. I'm not complaining, it was a good thing lying there in the quiet grinning away and remembering all we'd done and filing it away. I enjoyed our trip on so many levels this time around that it's left me with Disney Magic overload. There was the escape aspect, the nostalgia, the week-long anniversary celebration, the new appreciation for the work of the Imagineers, the understanding of Walt's dream come to life and all the simple fun of simply enjoying the parks as theme parks. The best part, though, and I think the first thing I'll write about, was watching my son take it all in as a child and a young man at the same time. I think that's the single most unique thing about this journey, the one thing I'll never recapture.

So for now, let me just say that Walt Disney World worked its magic once again. We had an amazing time. I'm refreshed and renewed and happy. And I'll begin telling you all about it as soon as I can :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Eating Through The World

Ok, I love this mobile blogging thing. We are now staked out on a bridge between France and Great Britain in Epcot waiting for the Illuminations show to start. We are saving spots for sure, but we are also too stuffed to move. We have been eating our way through the parks.
We are using the dining plan, free with room and ticket combo. We love it. The plan no longer includes appetizers with dinner, but it still is almost more food than we can eat, and we can eat a lot!
We sometimes buy stuff to eat as well, like those delicious shrimp chips (blech!), but it's always just novelty stuff John sees and asks for. He asks for very little so I almost always agree to the freeze dried ice cream or weird fruit chewies.
I love the variety here. Today I had lamb for lunch in Morroco, shrimp chips and a frozen sake cocktail in Japan, beer and a pretzel in Germany and onion soup, duck and strawberry cake in France. Can't beat it. And I am already looking forward to my cinnamon bun at Starring Rolls in the Studios tomorrow morning :)

Live from the Disney bus

I love Disney's internal transport. I love it so much that sometimes we use it just to use it. On arrival day, John wanted to ride the monorail, so instead of going straight to the Magic Kingdom from Caribbean Beach, we took a resort bus to Epcot then transferred to the monorail to the Transportation and Ticket Center. We wanted to eat at the Polynesian (Captain Cook's where I got the pork bbq I made for our last Disney Dinner), so we hopped the resort loop monorail, rode past the Poly the first time so we could see all the resorts, and then stopped for dinner. After eating, we took s boat to the Magic Kingdom, just to be different.
Today, right now as I type actually, we are bussing to Hollywood Studios so we can take the boat to the World Showcase entrance to Epcot. It involves extra stops and extra time, but we are journey people and to.us its more than worth it!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hoping The Latest "Avatarland" Rumors Aren't True

According to the blog StitchKingdom, the gymnasts performing the Festival of the Lion King show in Animal Kingdom have been put on notice that they will no longer be needed after about six months. This is StitchKingdom's take on the news:

If this is indeed the case, it basically sets FOTLK for an early 2013 closing at the latest, lasting perhaps no longer than February (we were provided only with a rough timeline, not a specific date). Even so, it would be possible for the company to simply end the show and pay off the remainder of the contract should it determine to be more cost effective to do so.
The logical explanation provided for the end of the popular show’s reign (which has been a staple at the park since it opened in 1998) is that Camp Minnie-Mickey will be leveled in favor of ‘Avatarland’ which is expected to break ground in 2013. Most recently, reports have come in that ‘Avatarland’ is anywhere from stalled-to-canceled, but these reports mostly cite an IGN report which mentions only that the project is delayed, but even that arguably incorrectly culls its info from its own cited source, which effectively bases the rumor on nothing more than a combination of no concept art being publicly shared and (what amounts to) fanfic.
While The Walt Disney Company is being conspicuously mum on its plans for ‘Avatarland,’ it has seemingly been moving forward with the project, conducting balloon surveys and, of course, telling its current cast members their services will no longer be required soon.

I really really hope this isn't true. I much preferred the rumors of Avartarland's demise. At the least, I'd hoped it would be built on land that wasn't now being used, sparing the need to tear down presently existing attractions. I wondered how long Camp Minnie Mickey would survive "as is" though. It seemed a lot of land to be used for a character meet and greet. But damn it, it worked! In the atmosphere of Animal Kingdom, having a tucked away spot to find Mickey or Pluto or Donald away from the main part of the park seems to fit right in. Animal Kingdom is about exploring and finding the little off the beaten path spots.

And to close the Festival of the Lion King is completely wrong. That show was our favorite on our last trip and I'm very much looking forward to seeing it again in a week, hopefully not for the last time. Lion King gives the parks a show not geared to little girls or small children, though both will enjoy it. It is truly a show for everyone, featuring some of the most spectacular costumes and songs Disney has ever produced. To see it go in favor of an idea as poorly conceived as Avatarland would be a true shame.

Avatar the movie deserves no land. Maybe, if you begged, I might concede to a ride, but a whole section of a Disney park? I think not. Avatar was visually stunning, but one of the most trite collection of bad cliches to ever find it way to the big screen. There was no story, and Disney is all about the story, first and foremost. The Imagineers would have a huge pallet to work with, but no subject to paint. I think it's a horrible idea no matter where they place it, but to tear down Mickey's camp to build a tribute to James Cameron is one of the most un-Disney ideas imaginable.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Always Changing, Always Something New

People tend to roll their eyes at those of us who visit Disney regularly. They wonder, I think, why we don't get bored going to the same place year after year.These people are missing out on one of the greatest things about the Disney parks -- the fact that they are always evolving and changing. Like I wrote about trying to capture in my personal life in a previous post, they Keep Moving Forward. So, as an example of what I mean, here are just some of the changes to old things we look forward to seeing and some of the new things we've never tried.

Some changes are just cosmetic, but as much as we love taking pictures in the parks, these things are exciting for us. The castle in the Magic Kingdom, as iconic as it is, almost always has something new going on. It's been covered in what looked like birthday cake frosting, which was horrid, and it's been decorated with golden statues of characters from decades of Disney films, which was really cool. It gets lights at Christmas and this time we will get to see those going up. There will be a crane involved, so our castle pics will have that in them sometimes, but it's still something we're looking forward to seeing because it's new and different. In Epcot we will be seeing the big golf ball of Spaceship Earth without its accompanying Mickey hand and wand. It's been a long time since we visited Epcot, so we are as happy about Spaceship Earth being "plain" as we are about the castle being decorated.

The biggest change coming to Disney World is the New Fantasyland expansion.Most of it won't be open yet when we are there, so peeking over the walls at the construction is pretty high on my list of things to do at the Magic Kingdom. The New Fantasyland required the demolition of the old Mickey's Toontown Fair, which is a bit sad, but not a heart breaker. We liked Toontown and captured one of my favorite Disney pictures of my son at the Donald Duck themed water play area there. But the new Fantasyland will feature a new water play area based on a circus theme, AND it will be open when we go next week! Wish me luck, I'm going to attempt to make the boy go in and try to capture an updated version of this shot. I'm hoping he won't be "too cool" for that. Again, changes I guess.

There is a whole litany of rides and shows we either haven't seen at all or our son hasn't seen or we've just skipped for far too long. We always seemed to rush past the Swiss Family Treehouse, Tom Sawyer's Island and the Liberty Belle riverboat. Not this time, we have eight days in the parks and plenty of time to explore all the nooks and crannies. We've skipped the Carousel of Progress for years, but after reading a lot about Walt Disney and his ideas about moving forward as a society into a brighter future, I really want to see it this time. During our last visit to Epcot, we skipped Soarin' because it had a long line and we had no idea what it was. We skipped Universe of Energy because the dinosaurs would have scared the boy half to death. This time they are on the list. Captain Eo is back and I'm dragging the family in just to revel in the pure 80s awfulness. We plan to explore the World Showcase much more thoroughly now that John is old enough to appreciate it and is really looking forward to it. It's been just as long since we visited Animal Kingdom and we have lots to try there as well. Kali River Rapids, Expedition Everest and Dinosaur are must do's on this trip. Our friend Jen has told us we NEED to see the Nemo show, so that's a priority. Actually, we look forward to stopping to take in about all the shows we can, having a new appreciation for the inner workings of stage productions from our work on Wizard of Oz this summer. Hollywood Studio's production of Beauty and the Beast is very high on the lovely Miss Lisa's list. Also at the Studios, Star tourrs was closed for a refurb last time we visited, so we can't wait to get in again and see what's new. We missed the Indian Jones show as well, so we will catch that, and we still need to experience the cowboy side of The Great Movie Ride.

We are spending the week at the Caribbean Beach Resort, someplace we've never even seen let alone stayed. It's a huge resort with tons to explore, and we'll take the time to see it all.

So, yes, we've been to Walt Disney World three times in the last four years and we are going again. But there is no way we will be bored or feel like we've been there done that. In the Magical World of Disney, it's always a Big Bright Beautiful Tomorrow, and that's just the way we like it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pedro Sez......

Today's post isn't about Disney World, it's about the journey there, because that's important, too.

Ours is a family of wanderers. We go, just to go, and we don't always have any destination in mind. Our friends joke about looking forward to the "Where's John" pictures on our Facebook pages because they never know where he'll pop up next. We enjoy the journey for its own sake. We tend to take the "scenic route" as my father was fond of calling it. Country roads are better than superhighways, in my book. I'm not a car guy and driving at breakneck speed among a thousand crazed tourists is not my idea of fun. We like to mosey, to stop and see the sights, to explore.

We apparently don't do a trip to Disney like any other people. There are those who wonder how we can drive at all. Many think it's nuts that we consider a 9+ hour drive suitable for a long weekend trip. Our normal routes, either down the coast through Charleston and the tidewater, or out through the South Carolina Piedmont by way of such awesome towns as Summerville and Turbeville, get strange looks and shakes of the head. Some can't fathom that we plan to stop part way down over night, but have no earthly idea where or when that will happen. It's ok, we wander and we play it by ear and we like it that way.

Having said that, this time we are traveling to Disney on the widest, most highway-like highways possible in our little neck of Southeastern North Carolina. Nope, we aren't THAT excited that we need to find the fastest route. Everyone in this area has their own special way to reach southbound I-95, and this isn't anyone's idea of the best. We will be on the "fastest" roads headed our general direction, but they take us quite a bit north before we can head south. Actually, that's all in the plan. I want to cross into South Carolina on I-95 so that my son can experience the joy/horror that is South of the Border.

Oh, South of the Border. Can there be a more apt definition of "tourist trap?" Can there be anywhere more gloriously, hideously neon-ified? My son thinks the "strip" in Myrtle Beach is tacky. Ha! He ain't seen tacky yet! And the stores full of fireworks and cheap plastic toys and tons and tons of pecan rolls. Who actually eats pecan rolls, anyway? I don't think I've ever seen one pass a human being's lips.

As children of the Northeast, every trip to Disney meant a countdown of miles to South of the Border. Everyone read out what "Pedro sez" next. The weather .... Chili today, Hot Tamale. Keep Yelling Kids, They'll Stop. You Never Sausage A Place (with a big sausage, of course). And the mileage on each billboard, and the billboards coming each mile as you get anywhere near the place. I loved it all. It all meant we were AWAY, we were GOING SOMEWHERE, it was REALLY VACATION!!!! And my own son has never experienced that. And I just couldn't stand it anymore.

So this time we go all interstate, all boring road with no small towns and cows and dilapidated farmhouses. Well, there will be some, this is North Carolina after all, and our interstates aren't actually all 4-lane highway. But there will be less and it will be all stuff we've seen before. But it will all be worth it when John sets eyes on that great shrine to Crass Commercialism (built by a Greek immigrant, by the way.) He won't like South of the Border, mind you. None of us really like the place. But he'll have seen it and we will have one more memory in common and lots to laugh about as we head down 95 South on our way to an overnite somewhere, whenever I get tired of driving.

And no, we won't have any reservations. :-)