Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Disney's Beastly Kingdom: What Could Have Been

     Happy New Year! I'm back from my holiday vacation and ready to talk some more Disney World! Today I want to share a bit about a land at Disney's Animal Kingdom. This land, however, was never built. Though Disney broke ground recently on an Avatar themed land at the Animal Kingdom, the original intent of the Imagineers was to build an area of the park that focused on mythical creatures such as dragons, unicorns, and the like. This would have given the park two lands based on real continents (Africa and Asia), and two lands based on Animals you can't see anywhere else (Dinosaurs and mythical creatures). The parallelism here is a nice image.
     In 1998, Animal Kingdom opened with three lands available to the public: Africa, Dinoland U.S.A, and Camp Minnie Mickey. Asia wasn't ready for opening day, and Camp Minnie Mickey was always intended to be a place holder for the soon-to-come "beastly kingdom". In the opening of the park, the dragons and unicorns played as important a role in the signage and suspense for the future as did elephants and tigers. To this day, the Animal Kingdom features a "unicorn" section in its parking lot, a dragon on its insignia, and a few other hints for what was to come.
     The most important remnants from the planned kingdom lie along the banks of the Discovery River, which flows around Discovery Island. Many fans will remember that at one point, guests could ride boats on a tour on this river, and get some beautiful views from the park. One important facet of this tour was a mysterious encounter with a rock formation outside of Camp Minnie Mickey. As the boat floated by the rocks, which seemed to be shaped like a dragon (or is it your imagination?), sounds of monsters could be heard from inside, and fire would be shot out of the mouth of the dragon! This was intended to be a little teaser for the land that was soon to open in the park. If you cross the bride to Camp Minnie-Mickey today, you can still see this rock formation in the distance, though Disney tries to hide it now.
http://saitonews.tripod.com/beastly.html
      As the Animal Kingdom grew and aged, the beastly kingdom made less sense. Guests wanted more contact with real animals, and imagineers worried about the impact that fantasy-themed rides would have on the animals. The Festival of the Lion King quickly became the park's most successful show, and was planted firmly in Camp Minnie Mickey. Protesters also made sure Disney heard how much they didn't appreciate comparing real animals to fantasy ones. We will see how people respond to the new Avatar-themed land. For now, it is fun to think about what could have been. We will also see how much of this land ends up coming to fruition with some Avatar attractions as vehicles, rather than Disney-original themes.

Friday, December 19, 2014

5 Tips for Saving While Eating in Walt Disney World

     While there are many many ways to be smart and save money at Walt Disney World, some of the costs are just large. Hotels, in general, are expensive. Park tickets are the base of your spending, and are always expensive. Likewise, eating in Walt Disney World is expensive. The key things to keep in mind while planning how you will eat while on your vacation are as follows:

  • Eat at places that maximize the experience you have, and your value for the dollar spent. Disney World dining is incredible, if you do your homework and spend in the right places. Read before you go!
  • Don't spend extra money on food you can get anywhere, and food that will not give you the truly cherish-able experience that Disney World should be.
http://www.wesh.com/orlandomyway/orlando-theme-parks/california-grill-at-disneys-contempora
ry-resort-celebrates-19th-birthday/25993982

My five tips for dining at the World center around these two themes. In general, you have to start by facing the fact that it will cost money to go to Walt Disney World, and that your dining budget is part of the money you save for your experience. Once you have that idea down, here is my advice:
  1. Bring food! There are grocery stores near Walt Disney World. No one is stopping you from taking a quick trip to these places, stocking up on bars and shakes and coffee and even sandwiches. Disney will never remind you of this, but you can and should eat your own food for several of your meals. I recommend one special breakfast brunch for your trip, and then eating your own breakfast in the room for the rest of the time. You could save hundreds of dollars! In addition, Disney does not mind you bringing food into their parks. Replace several of your meals out on adventures with your own food! You will be healthier, thinner, and you don't have to buy all of your meals at Disney prices (which are often interstellar). 
  2. Tables in Wonderland is Disney's dining membership club.... sort of. I say "club" because it is only available to annual passholders, Florida residents, and Disney Vacation Club members. For annual passholders, the card is $100. This card is usable at almost any restaurant on property, and saves you 20% on all dining, including alcohol. So, if you plan on spending $500 on food for your family (which you probably should bet on), you will save money with this card. You could save hundreds of dollars. More details about this card here
  3. Disney Dining Plan... for Free? This one is a littler harder to come by, but could save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Most years, around September, Disney offers "free dining" to those staying at select Deluxe Resorts on property. This plan, at its most basic level, allows you to enjoy one snack, one counter service meal, and one sit-down experience per day. If you receive this plan for your stay, you could very very easily purchase no food on your vacation, and dine very well. With your dining points, you can enjoy some of Disney's finest restaurants for free.
  4. Share Your Food. So, assume you have either purchased or received for free the Disney Dining Plan. You now have one "point" per day to use on sit-down eating. One way to truly maximize this plan is to share. You will find that the portions of Disney dining are often... immense. You can go to many restaurants on property, order off of the set menu, and be perfectly satisfied with half of the food you receive. You can order the food for one person, thus only spending one "point". There are a few disclaimers I should put here. While Disney does allow this, they will never encourage it. You will also have to check beforehand to see which places will serve you enough food for two people. Additionally, you cannot use this trick at buffet-style venues, which are often some of the best on property. lastly, I have to say that the Disney dining plan is far too much food for me, and I do not eat lightly!
  5. Spend Little, Experience it all. Fifth and finally, my advice would be to maximize your dollar by buying small amounts of food at the most expensive places. For example, you and your date could go to the California Grill (pictured above), watch the fireworks, and have an unbelievable night, for only the cost of two glasses of wine and a plate of sushi. This could run you as little as $35, and could be an unforgettable night. You could then go back to your hotel, and buy a sandwich in the gift shop, or share a salad next to the pool. You don't have to spend all of your dining money at the restaurant to have the experience. And that experience is really what the dining is about. 
     I hope these are helpful tips! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below, and I will do the best I can to answer. 

Thank you sincerely for reading, 

-William

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Walt Disney World had an on-site Airport!

     Some of my favorite tidbits about Walt Disney World are those that never really happened the way they were supposed to. For example, I've written about a couple of hotels that never quite came to fruition: the Venetian and the Asian (click to read about them). In this post, however, I want to talk about a little historical tidbit that did happen, but only for a short period of time.
     You're taking the monorail from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom on a lovely afternoon . As you approach the Transportation and Ticket Center, you look to the right, and notice a large open area of concrete with trucks and other transport on it, behind the fleeting trees. For just a moment, you just caught a glimpse of a fascinating piece of Disney history: Lake Buena Vista STOL airport. While this air strip is used for parking and transport today, it once served as a functional airstrip. Yes, airplanes could be seen daily flying over and next to Cinderella Castle:

http://disneyfunfactoftheday.blogspot.com/2011/10/walt-disney-worlds-stolport-in-action.html

     STOL airport opened in 1971, along with the Walt Disney World resort. It went along with the theme of Walt Disney World: an all-inclusive vacation destination, where guests would stay for many days, and never run out of entertainment and activities. With this airport, guests could fly right in, and not have to worry about their transportation from Orlando. They would just jump off of their long flight, and back onto a short flight direct to the Magic Kingdom! Sounds great, right?
     It was great for a few years. However, as the Kingdom grew in popularity, the flights got more and more frequent, and the airport quickly outgrew its infrastructural capabilities. Pilots began complaining that the air strip was not long enough. The port never really had a hangar, so only four planes could be at the strip at a time. In 1975, with the growth of the World following the end of the oil crisis, the airport became impractical, and was closed until a time when it could be renovated to handle the crowds. However, in 1982, with the construction of the monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center to Epcot, the air strip lost any hope of opening again. The rail was simply too close to the air strip to ever allow planes near it again.
     And so, all we are left with is a fun glimpse through the trees to wonder what it must have been like to fly directly into Walt Disney World.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Is Frozen Too Present in Walt Disney World?

     If you have been to Walt Disney World in the last year or so, you will have noticed an ever-growing presence of Disney's most successful movie of all time: Frozen. The film blew away all other cartoons ever made, and outsold by far all other Disney movies to date, even unseating The Lion King. With this huge success, Disney has not hesitated to place Frozen into its Theme Parks in Florida, and at a remarkable pace and volume! I want to take a moment to analyze whether or not Frozen in the parks has gone too far.
     The first casualty to the Frozen obsession was our beloved tempestuous sea-faring adventure. An imminent Frozen ride has closed that beloved attraction in Epcot, and will open in 2016. The termination of Maelstrom led to many devoted fans rioting in the streets... well... mostly the internet. I wrote a brief story about that here. A new fireworks show was added to Hollywood Studios several nights of the week, featuring mostly the left-over fireworks from the other shows. It is fun, but pales miserably in comparison to Wishes and Illuminations, and even Fantasmic!. When Elsa and Anna first came to the World, the lines at the Norway Pavilion in Epcot were immediately up to five hours long. When they moved to be included in the Magic Kingdom, the lines didn't go down much. Summers at Walt Disney World included a party at the Magic Kingdom which was Frozen themed. "A Frozen Holiday Wish" replaced the normal Wishes show at the Magic Kingdom. This year's Very Merry Christmas Party includes and focuses on the Frozen characters.
     So, what to make of this? First, I would like to point out that many, many people are extremely excited (to the point of delirium) about Frozen coming to the Parks. This survey on the Disboards shows that nearly half of people are more excited about the new Frozen ride than they are angry about Maelstrom leaving. I tend to agree with this. Maelstrom was wonderful, and was a part of my childhood. However, it was not the incredible journey or real representation of the people of Norway which it was made out to be. The argument that Disney is putting cartoons into a "real" attraction is bogus. The ride was about trolls, and was sponsored by a Norwegian Oil company. Because of this, I mourn the loss of Maelstrom, but also look forward to the story by Hans Christian Anderson making its way into the pavilion.
     Additionally, Disney World is always bringing in new things to its parks. People seem to be angry this time, because what they are bringing in is replacing many unsuccessful things (people like to root for the underdog). Nostalgics like myself are always tempted to think that the old was better, or how it ought to be. However, Disney World must keep evolving in order to stay open. The incredible shows, the unmatched level of service, and the life-changing messages do not come without Disney selling what it has to the public.
     We must always remember a few things: First, A Frozen Holiday Wish will go away, and will be replaced by a collection of Disney classics nightly in the Magic Kingdom sky. Next, Frozen will soon join the echelon of Disney movies that make up our collective cultural memory, and bring us back to childhood. Lastly, Disney World is not a museum. As the culture of the world changes, the culture of the World changes. Walt Disney World is built to be a reflection of hope back on a world that actually exists. It is part myth, and part optimistic interpretation of reality. Simply sit through Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, and you will know that Disney World is not stuck in the past, or stuck in an unreality of a false world. It is a celebration of real people, and a thus must reflect what real people see as good. Right now, Frozen is a positive message that much of the world wants to see.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Disney's Venetian Resort: What Could Have Been

     Along with the many wonderful ideas for Walt Disney World that became reality, there have been several ideas blocked by inhibiting factors, or supplanted by ideas that were even better. The story of the origins of Walt Disney World hotels is one of failures, learning, and beautiful results. In this post I want to talk about one of the ideas in Walt Disney World that was fully ready for production, and was even under construction, when it unfortunately fell through (literally).
     In the late 1960's, Disney began clearing land on the east side of the Seven Seas Lagoon, across the water bridge from the Contemporary. The Venetian was going to complement the Asian Resort, which was to be built across the lake. Here is the plan for the two resorts on the lake:

http://www.mickeynews.com/the-hotels-that-might-have-been-part-1-%E2%80%93-disneyland-and-walt-disney-world.html
   
     The Venetian was going to be a series of canals and buildings to imitate Venice, Italy. It was going to possess a glass ceiling lobby to let sunlight in. The resort's central figure was to be a replica of the campanile of St. Mark's Square. The transportation boats to take guests to the Magic Kingdom would roll through the canals of the resort and take hotel guests on tours of the replica city. 
     The idea for the resort never came to fruition, for two main reasons. First, the land on that spot was determined far into the project to be unsuitable for supporting buildings. Foundation would be laid and sink into the unstable ground. One will notice that to this day, there is nothing at all built on the land between the Transportation and Ticket Center and the Contemporary Resort. It is one of the few blank spaces visible in Walt Disney World. In addition, the oil crisis of 1973 put a hold on Disney's construction of all kinds, most especially hotel ground-breaking.
     The savvy reader will notice that the idea of a Venice-themed area did not disappear forever. Today's Italy pavilion at Epcot is very close to the idea of the Venetian Resort. Even the idea for canals and boat tours was seriously considered as an attraction for the Italian Pavilion. The boats on the waterfront were originally built to be part of this attraction. As they say, a good idea at Imagineering never truly dies. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My 5 Favorite Holiday Happenings at Walt Disney World

     December is here! Walt Disney World is the perfect place for the Holidays. The quaintness, diversity, and already magical atmosphere lend themselves beautifully to the traditions of Christmas and the Holidays. Come mid-November, Disney's elves are hard at work for just a couple nights, out of sight, to transform Walt Disney World into a celebration for the season. All of the resorts, all theme parks, and every other place in the World puts on a new outfit full of snow and cheer. The music playing in the parks and hotels changes to Christmas music. Disney doesn't just re-theme their lands either; they create and provide unique attractions and shows just for the Holidays. Here are my 5 favorite things to see during the Holidays at Walt Disney World:

  1. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights: sits nestled in the back of Disney's Hollywood Studios. Each year, 20,000 man hours go into the hanging of 40 miles of cable and lights onto the Streets of America. The light display was purchased from a family in Arkansas in the 1990's, and was transplanted to Disney World. Recently, the display was changed to include "dancing" lights, which are timed to music, and put on an inspiring show. The lights include reindeer, a globe, and millions of lights. It is worth park admission by itself. 
  2. Holidays Around the World: happens each December at Epcot's World Showcase. Around the lagoon, actors and speakers from each country represented at Epcot speak several times a day about the Holiday traditions of that country. The American Adventure includes Christmas music from the Voices of Liberty, and many other countries' programs include performances. Many traditions, such as Germany and the U.K., are relatively similar to what we know, but are just different enough to be interesting and informative. 
  3. Fireworks at New Years, Magic Kingdom Style: Each year, Disney goes even bigger with their fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom on New Years. Keep in mind, I mean "at the Magic Kingdom" very loosely. When I most recently saw the show, fireworks were launched from the middle of the Seven Seas Lagoon, as well as from several areas in and out of the Park. I spent my evening at the Grand Floridian, and was still right in the middle of the show. If you want to see Disney pull out the stops, here is your chance. 
  4. Celebratory Edibles: at Disney's resort hotels are present and large, and will fill you with a little bit of childish wonder. At Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, the kitchen works each year to construct a life-size gingerbread house in the lobby. This monument to the holidays is a special treat, and a beautiful example of Disney pushing boundaries. At the Beach Club Resort, a carousel is constructed out of gingerbread. The carousel moves and works, and is surrounded by other food and edible art. It is another must-see. At Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, a miniature African village is made of chocolate and cookies each year. It is always different, and is located right outside of Boma. All of these sights are free to go see, and can be accessed using Disney transportation. Don't hesitate!
  5. "Peace on Earth" Tag to Illuminations: Epcot's nightly fireworks show becomes even more life-changing during the holidays. After the "regular" ending (I cringe calling it that), Walter Cronkite's voice tells of Epcot's message to the world: that of "peace on earth; good will to men". In addition to the touching words, Epcot shoots off more beautiful and loud fireworks into the sky than you dare think possible. An amazing flurry of bright bursts will take your breath away, and lights up the entire park. This is a must-see.
     What is your favorite thing to do at Walt Disney World during the Holidays? Comment below!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Best Rides in Walt Disney World at Night

     After the sun goes down, the air at Walt Disney World takes on a new feel. The warm light accents every corner of the architecture, and the aspects of design and story present in the parks are even more showcased. Colors are brighter, and everything can be seen through a different lens. My favorite time in Walt Disney World is at night. I look forward every day to watching passers by and families enjoy the twinkling magical light. In this post, I want to lend ideas as to which rides are extra special at night. Riding some rides at night completely changes the experience, and can give you a new perspective on the respective theme park. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Expedition Everest: Take a ride to find the Yeti at night, and a few new elements are added. First, the garden at the beginning of the ride is now dimly lit by warm lighting. I wish they could slow down the ride a bit so I could enjoy it! Next, as you make your way up the chain lift, look over at the beautiful Tree of Life. The lights on it at night make the animals pop, and add an intimate feel. However, the intimacy ends when you enter the thrill portion of the ride, as you realize you can't see anything! The hills fly by, and it is hard to tell whether you're inside or out! The end of the ride is extra comforting and welcoming. This one's a real treat. 
  • Splash Mountain: This Disney classic is a great opportunity to dip into some whimsy at night. The hills and drops and canals on the outside of the ride give you little glimpses of the castle, Tomorrowland, the tops of the buildings in Adventureland, and Big Thunder. My favorite part of this ride at night, though, is the dark red glow of the rock work. It is a warm and welcoming color, bidding you enter into the swamp to join the adventure with your favorite Br'er animals.
  • Jungle Cruise: At night, the jungle seems just a little bit more teeming and dank than it usually does. The jokes at night are a little bit more casual, and the people on board a little bit more loosely tempered. This ride is another classic, and riding it at night is a great way to make you feel close to the place we love. 
  • Tower of Terror: The Twilight Zone Tower becomes even more spooky and fun at night. The entrance queue garden stays steamy, and makes it hard to see. If you jump out from some of the concrete to scare your family, I guarantee they will scream. Once you enter the lobby, it no longer feels like an illusion when lightning strikes outside. And best of all, when the door opens for you before your rapid descent at the top of the tower, you can look out and see the living and nostalgic streets of Hollywood Studios down below you. Scream loud so they can hear you down there!
     There are many more rides that are lots of fun at night! What do you think?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Restaurants You Should Feel Free to Skip

     While Walt Disney World provides dining experiences that can and will surprise and delight you with their ambiance, fare, taste, service, and immersive themes, not all of them are perfect. The purpose of this article is not to point out which restaurants at Disney World are bad, but rather which ones you should skip in favor of another truly great and memorable experience. Here are several places you should probably skip over in favor of something better:

  1. Rainforest Cafe: There are two of them on property, and they are both fun and loud and bright. They have fun fish tanks and big colors and talking animals and trees, and your kids may beg to eat there. However, most of you can go down to your local mega-mall and find your own Rainforest Cafe, and it will be just as good as this. First of all, go into any of the theme parks, and you will find animatronic animals that are much more life-like and beautiful than these ones. The food is usually far below average, and WAY below the Disney standard of dining. Children will be screaming, and the intercom will ring with "Johnson Safari of nine, please approach the elephant". My suggestion, use this as a secret entrance to the Animal Kingdom, and nothing else. 
  2. San Angel Inn: This is a tough one for me. The dining area itself is beautiful, and sends you into another world of pyramids and romantic night-time strolls on Mayan shores. However, a couple of things make this place unappealing to me. First, the food is so very expensive. I am always keeping in mind that Disney food is inherently expensive, but this is beyond that. You can easily spend $100 on a few tacos and ice cream for two people here. Please ride the ride, get a margarita at La Cava, and avoid this place. Look and don't eat.
  3. Liberty Tree Tavern: I have complicated feelings here also. I have fond memories eating mashed potatoes and Turkey and rolling back to the Resort. However, I think I have to come clean and say you shouldn't eat here. The food is something you can easily eat at home, and will render you large and rotund. The gravy is usually... solid. The atmosphere is cozy, but it is also fairly boring. It is also insanely expensive to feed your family here. I would say that you will learn more, enjoy more, and have a more Magic Kingdom experience if you walk across the street to the Columbia Harbor House. See this blog post as to why you should go there.
  4. Hollywood and Vine: This restaurant sits, ironically, right next to the 50's Prime Time Cafe at Hollywood Studios. It is a buffet meal, and will sit you at cushy booths with your family in a vaguely themed but mostly green Hollywood... room. Now, you will be spending about $50 per person for as much good food as you can scarf, which is pretty standard fare at an expensive Disney Restaurant. However, you know where you could eat for less money and have a wonderful and memorable experience? Right next door at the Prime Time. You will have more fun, eat less, be happier, and leave smiling.  
  5. Yak and Yeti: Now I must say that I have had a small sample size here, and that this review is intended for the sit-down portion. When I went, I ordered a chicken salad. When I got it, it was canned tangerines on top of lettuce, with no chicken. I sent it back, and the salad I got back was smaller, and the waiter was mad at me. So if I were you, I would head on over to Tusker House in Africa. I must also say that the art and decor here is beautiful. I spent most of my time walking around and looking, because I am a huge dork. Do the same! Just ask if you can walk around. 
     I hope this helps out your dining plans on your next trip! 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Great Movie Ride Updates to Come, and What This Means for Hollywood Studios

     Disney recently announced an agreement with Turner Classic Movies. The movie giant will be airing Disney programming on their television channel on special occasions. These "event programs" will be centered around the history of the Disney company, in an attempt to bring back and reignite the current generation about older Disney films. I am really looking forward to these shows, and will surely be tuning in.
     In addition to these programs, TCM will be sponsoring an update for Disney's Great Movie Ride attraction at Hollywood Studios. Disney has hinted that the changes will come in stages, and will begin with an update to the movie montage at the end of the ride, as well as the one in the waiting queue. The change will also eventually include updated ride scenes, and a new introductory/loading area. This is big news for those of us who have been waiting around for a decade for Disney to do something with this space. However, the implications of this news are wide-spread!
     Some have been wondering if Disney is going to drop the movie-making theme from the Studios park all together. They have been subtly hinting at this idea by closing the Studios Backlot Tour, and the promise of Star Wars Land. This update, however, seems to indicate that Disney is in fact investing in that aspect of the park. It also indicates that while the giant sorcerer's hat is finally leaving, the Chinese Theater will remain there, and will most likely re-establish itself as the focal point of the park. It means that the main stretch of Hollywood Boulevard will still act as the key welcoming feature and as an aesthetic introduction to the rest of the park.
     Looks like The Great Movie Ride is here to stay!
   

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Disney's Asian Resort, What Could Have Been

     In the planning of Walt Disney World, many concepts were researched and developed, only to find that they didn't fit into the reality of Walt Disney World. These elements that never quite made it are one of my favorite things to talk about.
     In the 1960's, Disney Imagineers were throwing around ideas for resort themes, since this complete vacation Kingdom was going to now include themed resort hotels! Imaginations flew, and the onslaught of ideas was weened down to just a few that stuck. One of the ideas that stuck, and that was viewed as a pillar of the future of Walt Disney World was the Asian Resort. This Resort was to be built across the Seven Seas Lagoon from the Contemporary, and was to have a similar build to the Polynesian.
    The architecture was to be Thai and Chinese, with deep reds and intricate art and decor placed on the inside. The resort was intended to be a more upscale and elegant stay than that of the other resorts of the time.
     Construction began, and Disney's Asian Resort was scheduled to open in 1974. However, it was never finished, for the following two key reasons. One, the land on which it was built didn't support the structure. Construction teams would place building supports into the ground, and they would simply sink into the Florida muck. Second, the oil crisis of 1973 lost Disney much of its income of the time, and made construction much more expensive.
     The resort was one of several resorts that was never built, although construction began. The street "Floridian Way", now behind Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, was once called "Asian Way", and was built as an access road to the construction site of the Asian Resort. The Grand Floridian opened in 1988, essentially replacing the idea of the Asian, and probably preventing it from ever being built. But, it's fun to imagine!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Best Places to Watch "Wishes" Fireworks Show Outside the Magic Kingdom

     The Magic Kingdom's night-time spectacular, Wishes, is a must-see. It is a perfect way to end your day at the Magic Kingdom, and I believe it is completely necessary to get the full experience of the Magic Kingdom. The music of your favorite Disney movies plays along with Jiminy Cricket to tell a wonderful story that will leave you inspired and wanting to hug everyone. Many don't know, however, that you don't need to be inside the Magic Kingdom to see and experience the show! Now, I always suggest that your first time with the show ought to be in the Park. Wishes is an inclusive experience that draws in parts of the park which will surprise you and make you feel encompassed in the magic. However, viewing from outside the park is a different, more relaxing, and sometimes cheaper way to see the show (as it doesn't require a park ticket!). Here are my favorite ways to see it:

  • The Marina at Grand Floridian: Outside the Gasparilla Grill, between two Resort Buildings, is a seating area on the Marina. The two buildings act as a frame to Cinderella Castle. At night, the music is piped in, and this is one of my favorite spots to watch Wishes. The romance of the marina will grab you, and after the show you can just sit and talk with loved ones.
  • The Beach at the Polynesian: While this is a tough one to come by right now because the construction at the Polynesian, the beach at this Beautiful Resort makes a dark and quiet place to watch the fireworks. The music is piped in to some places, but it is also just a good place to watch the show without the music, and appreciate it in a more raw form. 
  • California Grill: sits atop Disney's Contemporary Resort, and is a prime location for viewing the Kingdom from above. You can sit at a window, eat your dinner, and watch the fireworks show from above. Now this will be a bit more crowded than the previous two options, but will include music and the enthusiasm of the crowd around you. I suggest the sushi!
  • Seven Seas Lagoon Cruises: Several boat cruises embark from the Grand Floridian and Contemporary Resorts each night. There is a Pirate Cruise, private cruises upon the Grand One Yacht, and several other options. These packages can include meals, and the music is piped into the boats. This can be a unique and special experience for couples, groups, or families. Plus, after the show, you get to experience a beautiful and memorable boat trip back to your dock rather than a mad exodus. 
     What are your favorite places to watch the show outside the Kingdom?

Friday, October 24, 2014

The 5 Best Pools in Walt Disney World

     Are you one of those people who loves to sit by the pool? Do you have children who love to swim and get lost in the adventure of a pool? Do you have fond memories of family adventures in the pool? Do you want a night out with a lover chatting and swimming in the twilight? Disney World offers some of the most elaborate, beautiful, well-themed, and romantic swimming complexes of any vacation destination in the world. If you are looking for a place to stay, and the pool is a big factor, use this list to help you decide. While almost every Disney resort has a pool that will keep you swimmers happy, these are the very best of the best:

     5. Luna Park Pool at Disney's Boardwalk is a beautiful continuation of the theme of the resort. Walk out back, through the arches under the lobby, and you walk into a pool complex that borrows from the elements of Luna Park of Jersey fame. There is a large swimming area, a water slide that looks and acts like a wooden roller-coaster, and even the terrifying giant clown face! While it isn't the most romantic pool, the kids will love it, and the adults can stroll along the boardwalk itself by night.

     4. Big Blue Pool at Disney's Art of Animation Resort is a completely different pool experience from any other on property. It is one of three pools at the resort, and is the largest single pool of water in Walt Disney World. The real fun here is the technology Disney put into the water itself. If you're under water, you will notice that Disney music is playing under said water. That's right, you can only hear it while you're in the water! Once again, this one gets zero romance points, but there are the Disney Parks at night for that, right?

     3. Uzima Pool at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is a truly unique experience. The design, plant life, and wildlife are what really make this pool. The stream that wanders down the side of the lobby, through Boma, and out to the pool provides a quaint and beautiful path toward your swim. The trees block your view from the lobby or rooms until they open up to reveal the wonderful Oasis that is this pool. The pool seems to be carved out of African Rocks, and the water slide cuts its way from a hut, through the stone, into the pool, which slopes gently from walk-in entrance to a not-so deep end. The real magic happens when you step out of the pool, and walk up to the Savanna that sits directly adjacent to it. You can look out afar and see giraffes and zebra, or look right in front of you and see flamingos. And, if you look very closely, you can see Bongos (the ghost of the forest) hiding in the bushes in front of you. This is a truly amazing pool experience. It is gut-tuggingly romantic at night, and an incredible end to a long day at Disney.

     2. Nanea Volcano Pool at Disney's Polynesian Resort is another beautiful pool experience, and is unique from all other pools once again. First of all, there is a giant Volcano that feeds water and swimmers into the pool with its slide! You walk through the Polynesian village, toward the white-sand beach, and see Cinderella Castle long in the distance. Your children will love the water-slide, and you will love the beautiful location and relaxing by the side of the Seven-Seas Lagoon, with Contemporary and Grand Floridian in view. For a very special experience, take a swim when Wishes Fireworks are shooting off from the Magic Kingdom. At times, the resort will pipe in the music from the show, and you can have a magical pool experience, complete with fireworks overhead.

     1. Stormalong Bay is a shared pool by Disney's Yacht and Beach Clubs. But don't worry, there is plenty of it to go around. This pool is more like a water park, except without the cheesy and run-down slides and gross pools that usually come with that. This pool complex is a series of sand-bottom pools, paths, saunas, bridges, slides, alcoves, whirlpools, and rivers that will make a swim into an adventure that rivals any theme park attraction. Now take all of this, and add architecture and a Victorian Beach theme that only Disney can do, and you have the greatest pool that has every been built. Want a thrilling water slide? Take a walk up the wrecked pirate ship's mast, and slide on down across a path, through the forest, into the rock work, and back into the main pool. Want another thrill? Swim against the current in the whirlpool. Want to build a sand castle? There are beaches made of sand on the shores of this pool, where children... or you... can design and build a city of castle masterpiece. Want a romantic escape? There are several hidden and secluded hot tubs, which must be found by exploring the landscape of the pool, and will reward you with plants and rocks and dim lighting to chat and enjoy the night. I cannot possibly overstate how wonderful and magical this pool is. It is truly a must-do for those looking for the most hauntingly beautiful things to do at Walt Disney World.

Thanks for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Latest on Disney's Hollywood Studios

     I updated you last week on the possible themed areas that might being coming to replace the property that was once taken by the Hollywood Backlot Tour. Today, I have a bit of updated information about what is (or might be) coming to Hollywood Studios.
     I ended my last post by hinting that Frozen would likely be making an appearance at the Studios in the coming months or years. I would like to recant that prediction, and replace it with the following possible situations coming to the studios:

  • A name change is in order: Since the park is no longer a functioning studio, there is word going around that the park's name will change to "Hollywood Adventure". That's kind of fun!
  • Pixar is coming: It is now looking pretty certain that the area behind Pixar Place, where the Backlot Tour used to be, is going to be largely taken by a huge expansion of Pixar Place. Rather than a studio theme, the area will be more fantasy-themed, and will be a more immersive experience into the world of Pixar movies. This could include a Monsters Inc. Roller-Coaster, and other fun rides themed around the Pixar movies.
  • Lucas-land is coming: It appears that Disney has plans to turn most of the west side of the park into a land completely themed around Lucas films. This includes Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and other little Lucas-related things. It does NOT seem to include Marvel in its plans (thank God). 
    I will keep you updated as I learn more about what will be changing at the Studios!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hollywood Backlot Tour is Closed... Now What?

     Disney recently announced that Disney's Hollywood Studios would be closing its longest and most theme-centric ride in the park: The Backlot Tour. They also gave guests only one week's notice that the attraction would be closing. The ride, an hour-long tour of the backlot of a once-functional movie studio, had begun to groan of old age by the time it was fated to end its life, but it will be sorely missed by Disney World fans everywhere, who grew up enjoying the ride and show with their friends and families. Now however, it is time to think of what is coming next! It's my philosophy, especially in rapidly changing Disney times such as this, to trust the company to put forth meaningful and excellent material that will match and exceed what it has created in the past. So what will replace the Backlot Tour??
     First, we know that Disney applied for permits on a major attraction, or several, to be created in the space that will be left behind by the exit of this attraction. Second, we know that Disney has made several acquisitions and created much new material that is needing a home in the theme parks (Star Wars, Frozen, Tangled, Upcoming Pixar Movies, Marvel). Thirdly, we know that the Studios are in need of some new drawing power. Many agree with me when I say that the Studios are the last park I tell my friends to visit when they are going to the World. To me, it seems like the park is largely missing a certain... Disneyness. It doesn't have quite the same magnitude, charm, and magic that the other three parks have. I believe Disney is aware of this, and is here working to change that. Fourthly, we know that the Studios is headed in a new direction. Disney is no longer pretending that this park is actually a studio... Nothing here has anything to do with move-making any more.  Perhaps this new land will help to define the essence of the park. Knowing these things, here are some speculative ideas floating around regarding what Disney may do with the land:

  • Marvel Land!!! I sure hope not. To me, the Marvel characters are the exact opposite of what Disney creates. They are violent, self-indulgent, and unromantic. Aside from personal thoughts, Disney does not yet have the rights to create park attractions based on the Marvel characters. Also, many complain that the Studios has nothing for children to come and see, and this would certainly not help that issue.
  • Star Wars Land!!! I don't think so. Star Wars Land is coming to the Studios! And I am excited, but it would make no sense to me to build it this far from the wildly successful Star Tours, or to move Star Tours closer to it. 
  • Cars Land!!! This one seems a bit more plausible to me. However, I have a hard time seeing Disney directly copying a land from another park, and placing it smack in the middle of a place it doesn't belong (although one could argue that most of California Adventure is exactly that). This would be more child-friendly, and would immediately have a huge draw.
  • Frozen-land!!! This one seems, to me, more likely than the previous options. Disney is making an obscene amount of money on Frozen, and the ride that is coming to Epcot will only ignite more Frozen fever as the next several months come and go. I might start looking for some ice in this area.
     Whatever comes to this area, I believe we can count on it being child-friendly (as ALL of Disney aught to be), and it will probably strongly push the park toward a new theme and feel, which is mostly undefined as of yet. It will be related to something hugely popular right now, and will completely redefine the park as a place that is child-friendly, and a magical Disney destination that you MUST visit on your vacation.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What to do with "Imagination"

     The Imagination Pavilion at Epcot has gone through a series of different reincarnations. It is widely agreed that the current version of the ride at the pavilion is quite... underdone. The recent change removed the friendly, older, Dreamfinder from the adventure. Many have said that Dreamfinder is what created the perfect balance in characters for the ride to work. Absent Dreamfinder, Figment the little purple dragon is often overbearing and even annoying. With Disney removing Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and the return of Captain EO coming to an end, what should Disney do with this space? The imagination is a central theme to the message of Epcot. Epcot is build around the idea that the world will work together and benefit from innovation and progress. I have a couple of ideas of how Disney might use this space and idea in a modern way. With technology advancing so fast, it might be too much to ask for Disney to always be using this ride as a way to show you what you could "imagine" if you could only try. The optical illusions are still fun, but the idea of imageworks being cutting edge has long gone to the past. Consequently, Disney needs to go a new direction with the idea of the pavilion.
     I would like to present a reincarnation of Disney's "Imagineering Institute". Disney fans are always thirsting for more history of Disney, and more looks behind the scenes at how the magic is made. This pavilion could become a place where children go to be inspired by the imagination of Disney Imagineers, and where adults go to learn about the company, its history, and its possible future. Through the ride that begins your adventure, you could meet Figment and Dreamfinder, as they sing with you about the ways in which Disney Imagineers have used their imaginations to create the parks, movies, and shows of Walt Disney World.
     After the ride, guests could enter into an area that is part "One Man's Dream", showing the power of Walt's Imagination, and an additional interactive area of how Imagineers do their work. It could include looks at future attractions, what goes into making a fireworks show, and areas where guests could create their own fireworks shows, and watch them virtually. There could be an area where guests could create animated characters, and give them traits and see how those traits react to environments of a given story.
     Bottom line, guests are starving to be part of the story-making and imagineering process of Disney, and giving them that opportunity would be hugely popular, and could breathe new life into this pavilion.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Details of Main Street USA at Walt Disney World

     In this post, I want to focus on just a couple of the small details that form the beautiful canvas of American expression, Main Street USA. The street acts as a funnel from the entrance of the Magic Kingdom to Cinderella Castle. Consequently, the majority of the morning mad rush, and evening exodus, pass by the rich facades of Main Street to get to their big attraction, or back to their bed. Sadly, this means much of the history and story told on Main Street is lost upon many guests of Walt Disney World. Here, I want to list a few things to which one aught to pay attention on Main Street. Here is my list:

  • The Windows of Main Street: Along the quaint American street, you will notice that nearly every window is decorated with a title.  Each and every title on these facades is significant in that it lists, often cleverly, the name of someone involved with the planning, imagineering, or building of the Magic Kingdom. Keep your eyes open for Walt's name, and his father, Elias. Here is a link to many of the windows and explanations for their significance: http://www.disneydispatch.com/content/columns/the-626/2011/03-the-windows-of-main-street-usa/
  • Street Lamps: Many don't realize that the length of Main Street represents a timeline through American Industrialization.  Look at the street lamps when you cross under the railroad, and keep watching them until you enter the central plaza of the Magic Kingdom.  You will notice that the lamps turn from kerosene to gas to electrically powered as you progress through the American Industrial Revolution.  You will also notice that the architecture of many of the buildings follow this trend by turning from brick and wood to painted steel.  
  • Popcorn Stands: Again upon crossing under the railroad bridge at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, take a moment to enjoy the air.  Notice that the first smell to hit your nose is that of popcorn.  Walt wanted this to be a subtle reference to the point that his park was telling a story. The popcorn is meant to evoke memories of childhood movie theaters.  
  • The Emporium: Although The Emporium has become synonymous with just another retail location in Walt Disney World, one can actually glean charming and rich knowledge about the "imagineered" history of Main Street USA.  You will notice that moving from south to north, the family who is responsible for the founding of this establishment began with one small room on the corner, and expanded several times (sometimes hastily) to grow their shop as American Industrialization allowed them to more efficiently market and sell their products.  Look closely, and you will see boarded up walls, family portraits, and quaint shop windows which all change to steel hooks, shelving units, and fancifully decorated rooms (such as the princess room).  
     Take time and slow down while you walt down Main Street leaving the park. The best time to appreciate all of these things is at night, after the park has closed, and most people have left. You can stay for about an hour and meander the street, enjoying the romance and ambiance, lighting and ragtime that join you and sing the gospel of Walt and his America.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Best Places to Watch 'Illuminations: Reflections of Earth' in EPCOT

     Each Park at Walt Disney World shares with us a message. Usually, this message is far too complicated and multi-faceted to put into words. Any attempt to do so usually ends up being expressed in buzz-words that lack specificity. But here is where Disney has done something, one might say, magical. The night-time shows at each park perfectly share and express the feel and message of that park. I have written briefly before about Illuminations: Reflections of Earth at EPCOT, and this post will delve briefly into my favorite locations to watch the show. To be a part of this experience is to feel and understand the message that EPCOT has to send to the world (and it is a touching one to say the least).
     First, you should keep in mind that you need to find a spot to watch, ideally at least 30 minutes before the show. The obvious spots fill up very quickly, and it is truly a different show if you are able to watch without heads and babies on shoulders in front of you. Finding a spot and sitting there shouldn't be a problem, provided that you've visited EPCOT with people you enjoy, and don't mind listening to excellent music for a while.
     Another few things to keep in mind are as follows: The show is hot! There is a lot of fire involved, and being too close to it may be uncomfortable for some children. In addition, keep in mind that there are a couple islands on the lagoon. While beautiful, these islands can get right in the way of the show if they are between you and the floating globe that possesses the spotlight for the majority of the evening. Finally, watch out for falling shells! If you are too close to the show, there is a good chance that shells from the fireworks can fall near or on you. If that scares you, don't be too close! Here is a list of my favorite spots:

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/illuminations-reflections-of-earth-barkley-simpson.html
  • The platform which extends from the bridge between the UK and France is an excellent place. There is a tiered platform with staircases, which is designed specifically for the viewing of the show. On many nights, nearly the entire platform is rented out for private parties, so make sure to check before-hand!
  • Germany has a wonderful view of the show. The railings across from Germany are many times some of the last places to fill before the show, and there are many excellent spots! Several square-shaped offshoots sit along the shore, and provide a close and beautiful view without being right in the middle of it. 
  • Mexico has a couple great options! The Cantina De San Angel is a wonderful place to watch if you can snag a table at the right time. It is right on the water, and provides a very good view. If you want to be outside and along a rail, the pathway just south of the pavilion is very good.
  • The Rose and Crown Pub at the United Kingdom Pavilion is a romantic little place that provides fantastic views of the show. You can talk to the wonderful English bartenders and be right on the water in a charming atmosphere.
  • There is a vista between the two Plaza buildings at the entrance to World Showcase from Future World, between Mexico and Canada. This area, usually reserved for fastpasses or events, provides a very very close view of the show. It is usually very busy, and doesn't particularly have the same charm as being at one of the pavilions. Did I mention it is close? I have been hit by falling shells from the show at least twice here. If you want a close experience, come here!
     There are many other good spots at EPCOT to watch the show. Explore and find your favorite! And enjoy the show (as if you could not enjoy it).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Three Reasons for Walt Disney World fans to go to Disneyland

     Tomorrow I embark on a journey with my family to Disneyland for a couple days. Now, we have always been Walt Disney World people at heart. I grew up going to the World more than once per year, and therefore have a very deep connection to that place. However, I feel that it is also very important that fans like us take time to visit the "original". We may not like to admit it, and we ALL know that Disney World is WAY better, but it is important to keep in mind the significance of Disneyland. Here are three big reasons why:
   
     1. History: Disneyland is where it all started. In 1955, Disneyland opened with Walt's blessing, and the park is littered (not literally of course) with historical goodies and little symbols of the days of its founding. The original versions of famous classic Disney rides are largely located here, save a couple that have been renovated more than their counterpart in the World. I will write a post later this week about some of the little historical parts of Disneyland you can still see today. You can feel the touch of Walt himself in Disneyland in a different and more direct way than anywhere else I have been.

     2. The Food: I am referring here specifically to the sit-down dining experiences that are available here, and not in Walt Disney World. Admittedly, the options are much fewer, because the theming and space does not allow for as much creativity and complete theming. However, there are several place in which you must eat if you are to consider yourself a fan of Disney Dining. The Blue Bayou at Pirates of the Caribbean, the Carthay Circle Theater Restaurant, Napa Rose, Goofy's Kitchen, and of course, Club 33, are all places that are destinations in their own, and deserve your attention, even though they are in Disneyland, as opposed to Disney World. They each have their own experience to accompany the food, and are each laced with tons of Disney magic.

     3. World of Color: This one is maybe the most important. Each night, World of Color lights up the skies in and around Disney's California Adventure, and boy is it an experience. My brother and I are both show and music nerds, and spend our evenings wholly agape and in awe of the constantly changing sounds and sights that is World of Color. The incorporation of the Ferris Wheel, California Screamin', and all of Paradise Pier, is absolutely breathtaking. The show borrows technology from Fantasmic! over at the Studios in Florida, but adds hundreds of lasers and fountains, synchronized to music, and takes water projection to a completely different level. You will be entranced by the number of elements in the park that partake in the show, and the scale to which they take it. In other words, this show is so worth seeing, that it is enough by itself to get you to California.

     I know how tempting it is to decide that Disney World is best (and it is), and therefore decide to only vacation there. However, there are many magical experiences to be had in Disneyland that cannot be experienced in the World. It is where it all started, and therefore it deserves your pilgrimage.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Maelstrom to Close to Make Room for Frozen Themed Attraction at EPCOT

     Yewww are not the first to pass this way. But you shall be the last.
   
     This October, the last ever passengers of Maelstrom of Norway will embark on their journey. Disney announced today that opening in 2016 will be the first ever Frozen themed ride at a Disney park. Maelstrom opened in 1988 along with the Norway Pavilion. It has long been the most popular ride at the World Showcase, and has been a fond tradition and wonderful memory for families and individuals who dare to venture with the Vikings. Disney has not released any details about how different the ride will be from Maelstrom, but you can bet that the lines will be out of this world.
   
     More news updates, thoughts, speculation, and analysis to come as I hear and think.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Avatar-Land?! But the children!

     This post, I want to briefly talk about a couple possible points of view one can take in response to Disney's announcement of Pandora coming to the Animal Kingdom, as well as its acquisition and planned use of Marvel superheroes in the park. When I first heard each of these announcements, my reaction was distinctly negative.
     I was in Disneyland, riding the Sun Wheel, when I peered on my phone. I saw the announcement that Disney was planning to add Avatar to its Animal Kingdom park in Walt Disney World, and frowned. I looked around at Paradise Pier, the twinkling lights, the whimsy and magic, and thought about the violent and vulgar and adult world of Pandora, as created by James Cameron. How on earth could Disney put that movie into its arsenal and use it to create a magical experience in its theme parks? Unfortunately, I stopped thinking about it after that because it was saddening me.
     I was at Universal CityWalk when I heard about Disney's acquisition of Marvel. I had just exited Islands of Adventure, and was contemplating the shortcomings of Universal Orlando as compared to Disney: their lack of detail work, lack of consideration of interaction, and general grave lack of magic in the parks. I had just seen their Marvel Superhero Island area of Islands of Adventure, and had not had a single interaction with an employee, had seen paint peeling of off the Incredible Hulk, and had been saddened. I was about ready to head back to Epcot and feel like I was part of something important and beautiful. Then I read the news that Disney had bought Marvel. Marvel; the theme of the land I had just exited, full of huge flexing muscles, and heroes who just seem to punch the bad guys to death at the end of the movie.
    Since these moments, I have had a few thoughts:
    First, Disney is never going to let franchises like Avatar and Marvel overtake and supplant the fairytales on which it was founded. When you walk down Main Street USA, do you see any mention of Indiana Jones? Or Star Wars? Aerosmith? American Idol? Secret Life of the American Teenager? All things Disney has used in its parks, and some of them even worked well!
    When I thought of these franchises in the Parks, I got scared, and then I realized Disney has been doing this for years and it had never phased me before! Is Avatar for children? No! Is Indiana Jones for children? Absolutely not! Those movies are violent and sexual and not at all appropriate for children. However, no one ever complains about the fact that Indiana Jones Adventure in Disneyland is inappropriate for kids. The same goes for Star Tours. Star Wars is violent, and Star Tours is still a wonderful experience at the parks.
    All that said, I don't personally care for Marvel, or what it teaches society, or how it makes me feel. Avatar was a big and cool movie, but also not particularly uplifting. However, I think Disney can do something incredible in the parks. And more importantly than that, I don't think we have to worry about either of those brand names replacing what we love: the magical whimsy and nostalgic "dreams come true" mantra that we all come back for while strolling down Main Street.

Monday, September 8, 2014

I'm back and feeling ambitious

     I'm all moved in! After graduating from college and moving to a new and tiny studio apartment, it is time for these thoughts and memories and good times to get moving again! I've missed writing about Walt Disney World, and am back on. Today, I want to post about something a little abstract. I have spent some time recently thinking about ambition. Ambition is a dangerous and powerful thing, but is also required for the accomplishment of any work that will impact society. I have had a couple thoughts that I think are worth sharing:
     Abraham Lincoln warned the American people to be wary of Ambitious men. He was concerned with American Democracy, and how the opinions of the masses can be skewed by single persons who are so ambitious that their very person changes the opinions of the people; their personality stops them from thinking.
    Further, cult leaders are the most ambitious people in society. Their personality causes them to be able to grab at the beliefs of those who want something other than what they have. They pull at peoples' greed and tell them that they are doing something right, or doing something that has been hid from them by some great blinding shielding force, like the government or other false religions.
     The most evil tyrants of history have been ceaselessly ambitious. Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini were all flamboyant and driven and hard-working. Their ambition allowed them to obtain power enough to truly change society.

     With all this, how is it that anything good is done in the world? For this answer, we look to Walt Disney. Walt was one of those who left his hometown with nothing but a few bucks and the clothes on his back. He and his brother had big goals. They had ambition. In contrast to many ambitious people, however, they were also genuinely interested in the well-being of others. Their thoughts weren't tainted by their ambition. They didn't fall into the trap that power can present; that you have incredible capacity to fulfill your own selfish needs if you choose to do so. Walt and Roy arrived into the adult world with, and developed throughout their careers, goals that reflected the well-being of the country they loved, and the spreading of positive ideas. In The Great Depression, they created cartoons that made America laugh, and bonded together a hemorrhaging society against the enemy of selfishness that had created the depression. In World War II, Disney created light-hearted propaganda with the goal of painting Hitler as a scared little man.
     Today, Disney's endless ambition combined with fortunate circumstances and the help of friends, has resulted in an incredible global force for positive thought and whimsy. This is the result of ambition combined with consideration for others, and the ability to pass on the satisfaction of your own wants for the benefit of society. We should all be ambitious and selfless, like Walt.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

So... River Country?

     Here is my obligatory occasional post about Disney mystery and urban exploring that I have very legally taken part in. During my last trip to Walt Disney World, I was on a kick of learning about some abandoned places in the World. One of high intrigue for me was River Country, located over by Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. I would like to first emphasize that I did not trespass on any property on which I should not have been! Everything I learned and saw was part the resort where guests are welcome to be!
    River Country opened in 1976, five years after Walt Disney World. It was the first water park made by Disney, and was themed as a down home in the south kind of family adventure locale. It used water from Bay Lake to feed the slides and pools, and therefore felt very natural and part of the landscape; cool! Well in 2001, Disney closed the park. There are many theories as to why this is, but the one I believe is that Florida passed a new 'Water Use Ordinance' which required all water for water parks to come from man-made and filtered sources. This kind of ruined the whole idea of River Country. Consequently, Disney closed River Country, and later announced that it would not reopen. The weird part, however, is that Disney did not demolish the park... at all. In fact, the lights at the entrance to the park still light up and look alive each night. Even weirder is the part of River Country that I saw and explored.

     If you head from the boat dock at the Wilderness Lodge toward River Country, you arrive eventually at a BBQ area, surrounded by a green fence. This is clearly a place where guests are welcome, but it is an eerie place. First of all, there is no music playing in the background. Second, I saw no cast members or movement of any kind in any direction from where I stood. I very much got the feeling that Disney didn't want people over there.
     Now there are two ways to experience a little bit of River Country today. First, you can use the restroom! The restrooms still have the faded and creepy "pool rules" posted on the outside of them. You can walk in, look around at the facilities, and I almost guarantee you will not see anyone else there during the day. Second, you can look at River Country. If you exit the restroom and stand on the rock in the garden area, you can get a nice view of what is left of that pool. It is very... apocalyptic and looks like something out of a zombie movie. If you're into that kind of thing, take a look!
     River Country was a big part of my childhood, and it is very surreal to go there today and look at what is left. Posted in "Will's Pics" is a picture that I took from on top of the above-described rock. Do you have any River Country experiences? Tell me about them below!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Taking Walt to Epcot

     For this post, I will stray briefly from my theme of lists or countdowns. Instead, I want to share one of my thoughts about Walt Disney himself. I recently listened to Lou Mongello on his WDW Radio Podcast, and he asked for responses to a question, as he is wont to do. This episode, he asked for places where we would want to take Walt in Walt Disney World. My immediate response is the same as their conclusion: Epcot.
    There are many out there who view Walt's Florida project video, and cannot help but feel that today's Epcot is a shadow of, and not a conceptual realization of his original Epcot idea. It was supposed to be a city! Right? Walt had planned an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). Walt had a huge imagination, but also managed to accomplish an incredible number of his wild and crazy plans. Disneyland, anyone? I say this because, as Lou Mongello pointed out, Walt was a realist. When the Imagineers sat down together after Walt's death to look at building Epcot, they ran across too many problems to make the "city" of Epcot a reality. Lou's feeling, and mine, is that Walt would have changed direction with the project, and done something with it that made sense and was of maximum benefit to the world. He wanted to make a place that was a "model". He said that! He said he wanted Epcot to be a model for the world to follow.
    This is where my bit comes in. I have an additional idea for my event to which I would take Walt. I hope, during your stays at Walt Disney World, that you have witnessed my favorite thing in the entire world; the event that brings me to tears each time I am a part of it, and makes me believe in the good of the world: Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. With a musical score that will leave you speechless, pyrotechnics perfectly timed with that score, lasers, fire, and water, Illuminations is the culmination of the Disney company in my mind. The eleven countries lit around the lagoon, each playing an integral role in the story of the history of earth, is without a doubt the most powerful show of any kind I have seen in my life. See it!
     All this to say, I would bring Walt to Illuminations. Although Epcot didn't turn into a city, it did turn into the perfect model of a society. In this model, each country celebrates the other, and celebrates what makes their own pavilion unique. I would turn to Walt before the show, and tell him simply that the world has not solved all of its problems, and countries are still constantly fighting. But I would tell him to watch and appreciate what the company he founded is doing as a beacon for the world, and a model for society.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Best Counter-Service Meal in each Walt Disney World Park

     A central challenge faced by Disney Parks is the accommodation of so many people. This manifests itself in the way in which attractions are designed, parks are laid out, and how Disney feeds its guests. The machine Disney has made for feeding the masses is the counter-service restaurant. Considering the concept and purpose of these dining areas, I have been very impressed on most occasions by the quality of the food and service at these places. There are no pointless dining areas; each counter-service restaurant fits into a larger narrative that is being played out by the surrounding attractions, infrastructure, art, cast members, and every little thing you see. So pay attention! Here is a list of my favorite counter-service restaurants, one for each respective park in Walt Disney World:

Magic Kingdom: The Magic Kingdom is a true marvel of theme park design. Everything you see in this place is on purpose. Disney Imagineers put so much effort into continuity of story and experience, and it is never more evident than here. My choice here was not an easy one, as several locations could each be considered excellent in their food and service. However, I have decided to pick:

Columbia Harbor House is located at the gateway between Liberty Square and Fantasyland, and is a perfect example of Disney theming at their dining spots. The name "Columbia" is a cordial homage to the replica vessel that sails the Rivers of America at Disneyland in California. The food and decor of this place, however, is a complete and beautiful throw into the world of sailing around the time of Colonial America. As you can already see, the theme fits beautifully into its host land, Liberty Square. The building is a seemingly endless maze of inviting and enticing hallways, staircases, and little doors that open up into more rooms. The walls are hung with paintings, charts, ropes, and other maritime fun stuff. My personal favorite part of this place is the seating area located in the bridge that extends over the outside walkway. Grab your seafood, sit here, and you will be able to see the Liberty Belle, Frontierland, and all of the mayhem going on in Liberty Square. Ok, I know; The food is great too! I have not eaten one thing that I didn't like here. The place can be really busy, but there will almost always be plenty of seating.

     pssst: If you get here in the morning, before the restaurant opens, the door will sometimes be ajar so cast members can get in and out. I'm not sure if this was allowed, but I have several times just walked on in and explored every piece of art and framed cool-stuffs on the wall, without a soul there to bother me.

Honorable Mentions: Pecos Bill's Tell-Tale Inn and Cafe, Casey's Corner

Epcot: And here is the hardest decision of them all. How can I possibly decide to pick from eleven countries and one theme park's worth of great food places?! I guess I can try. Needless to say, Epcot has many many places that will not disappoint you if you decide to eat there. This is why I first feel the need to tell you to try as much food at Epcot as you possibly can! Your hotel has a treadmill! Whether it's sushi at Japan, tacos at Mexico, salad at Sunshine Seasons, pastries in France, or chocolate in Germany, do not miss your chance to eat the amazing food at Epcot. That said, here is my best attempt to decide on a favorite:

Yorkshire County Fish Shop is probably the best fish and chip spot in Florida. The locals come to Epcot just for these little morsels. The United Kingdom plays host to this quaint tudor shack, which is located just to your right as you enter the U.K. from the International gateway or from France. On top of the fantastic fish and chips, there is beautiful seating on World Showcase lagoon right next door as you receive your food. To avoid the huge lines that can form here, try having an early dinner on a day that will allow you to eat outdoors comfortably.

Honorable Mention: Sunshine Seasons, Cantina de San Angel, Tangierine Cafe

Disney's Animal Kingdom: Here is an interesting one. Since Disney is always working to keep continuity of the story, and the Animal Kingdom's story involves real animals and the conservation of said animals, it can be tricky to fit in places to feed real hungry tourists! You will notice here that the places to eat are not quite at the center of focus like they are at Epcot or the Magic Kingdom. However, Disney once again has done a great job with their counter-service options, despite this challenge. This is especially prevalent in my favorite counter-service place:

Flame Tree BBQ is located on Discovery Island, and is the premier BBQ spot in all of Walt Disney World. The food is beautiful and delicious, and can even be healthy if you want! However, the real treasure of this dining experience is the seating. I've mentioned this spot in an earlier blog post because it is that good. After you are handed your food, stroll on down into the forest and through the trees. You will arrive at a collection of seating areas. Keep walking down until you arrive at the water-front. Here, you can sit and watch Expedition Everest, as well as the lake and surrounding theming. Take it in! This is one of the finest views in the Animal Kingdom, and I recommend checking it out even if you don't eat here!

Honorable Mention: Eat at Flame Tree!

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Now here is where it gets tricky. Disney's Hollywood Studios is meant to give the impression that it is a busy and functioning studio. And although this isn't really true any more, that is still the story that they are telling. And once again, the continuity of story here is a bit of a hinderance to the quality of counter-service dining. There are plenty of great places to eat if you want to sit down! However, the more outdoor and casual places are lacking a bit in theming, and all generally give the appearance of a Hollywood backlot, which is exactly what they are going for. Here, my pick was based mostly on the air-conditioning and pretty good food available:

ABC Commissary is located in a strange part of the park, between Star Tours and the Great Movie Ride. If you think that's a wide range of the park, you're right. If this helps a bit more, it is right behind the back side of the American Idol Experience. Anyhow, this place wins my award because of my personal experience on a hot day in Florida. Almost every place to buy food (sans sitting down) in Hollywood Studios is located outside. Now, Disney has put fans that blow water on your back at the other locations to try and cool you down, but I was never a fan of that (excuse the pun). Here, you can step inside a relatively quiet corner of the park, and get a pretty good salad or sandwich, and eat it in a quiet and cool place. The food here is also better than any other counter-service place in the park, and who doesn't like watching a little bit of Disney-created ABC television while they eat.

Honorable Mention: Toy Story Pizza Planet, Starring Rolls Cafe

    Thank you for reading, and I hope this is of some help for your next trip to Walt Disney World! More to come!

    Do you disagree? Comment here! Let's talk!



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ten Places to do Nothing for a Half Hour at Walt Disney World (pt. 2)

     Here are my final five places in Walt Disney World to relax for a half hour! Remember to put away your phone and stop reading my blog while you're at these spots. Just take it in.

6. The Liberty Square Porch
     When you enter Liberty Square from the central hub of the Magic Kingdom, look to your right and don't just walk by this beautiful littler porch. There are usually about two rocking chairs on it, three stairs elevation above the walking path, and canopied by all of the Victorian Boston architecture. Take a seat and listen to the piccolo and snare drum music that Disney plays to complement this land (one of my favorites in the Magic Kingdom). At night, get this spot for the Main Street Electrical Parade, and you'll have one of the best views in the Kingdom. Even without the parade, this porch is a wonderfully charming place to enjoy the Liberty Tree and look at the romantic lighting of the buildings. You can also hear the Liberty Belle's tooting from the Rivers of America, not too far off to your right.

7. Boardwalk Benches Outside Jellyrolls
     Yes, I know. This spot is dangerously close to my first spot listed on the part 1 blog. However, this one is listed for a specific reason. This spot, I find, is best solo. If you walk out of Epcot through the International Gateway and walk toward and past the Boardwalk, you will arrive at a series of benches in front of Jellyrolls dueling piano bar. While these benches are empty almost all of the day, they suddenly get pretty busy with people who walk out of restaurants to try to get a view of Illuminations from outside the park. Consequently, if you're one of those individuals who love meeting new people at Walt Disney World (and if you're not, we need to have a talk), you'll be happy to meet these groups of hip young kids with whom you can chat and enjoy the fireworks.
     Now, there is one thing that truly earns these benches a spot on our list. There are several times in the year (very often at Christmas time), when the Magic Kingdom and Epcot fireworks will be going off at the same time. This will give you a very unique position to watch from. Since you can't hear the music from either show, they will sometimes seem to be corresponding and putting on one giant show together. Though the Magic Kingdom fireworks show is a little ways away, you can very much see the fireworks over the Beach Club Resort across Crescent Lake. The Epcot fireworks will be right nearby over the top and to the left of ESPN Zone. Consult your showtimes guide online to see if and when the two shows will occur together!

8. Flametree BBQ Sitting Area
     This is a beautiful hidden treasure at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Though Flametree BBQ, on Discovery Island, is usually for those who want a good lunch, you should go there in the morning as the park opens. The counter-service restaurant won't be open, so just walk past the building itself and into the forest. It is just a bit of a walk, but you will make your way down to the water, and it will be worth it. Many of the sitting areas are covered by wooden rooves, and most are covered by tree canopy. From here you can watch the mob of hurried tourists make their way from Dino-Land to Expedition Everest. Also, you can marvel at the size and beauty of the detail Disney put into Expedition Everest! This is a fine view, and a rare opportunity to feel truly in a natural place on Disney property.
    Pssst: Two things: One, there is a plot of land that you can see from these seats. On this beach area, Disney has put many Asian decorations to give the feel of seeing an Asian shore in China... or something. However, when the park first opened, this was a place where Asian animals just roamed around on the beach, and guests could just watch them in what seemed like an un-caged environment. Cool!
     Second, there is rumor that Disney is looking to use the technology for World of Color in Disney's California Adventure, and place it somewhere in Florida. Now no promises, but people have been saying that this may be a good place for that show to be! The Animal Kingdom is looking for ways to keep guests at the park later into the evening, and spread them out from the soon-to-be Avatar-themed land. No promises, but keep your eye on this spot.

9. Garden at Japan Pavilion, Across From Teppan Edo
     So you're walking around the World Showcase, and you're tired! It happens to the most heroic traveler because Epcot is huge! It's roughly a mile around World Showcase Lagoon. This pavilion is my favorite stop and rest spot. The best thing about this little garden is that you don't have to buy food and sit next to a hundred other people to enjoy it! The point of this garden and koi pond is to relax. So do it! Find a nice bench or pond edge, and just sit and watch the fish. Even better, listen to the Taiko drumming taking place at the foot of the Pagoda behind you. This one is truly a relaxing spot.

10. The Small Streets of Morocco 
     I often hear people complain about the fact that there is "nothing to do" in Morocco at Epcot. Those who complain about this are missing the whole point! There is nothing to do at in Morocco because the designers were from Morocco, and sent by the king of Morocco to build a beautiful representation of their country for the whole world to see. They decided not to build rides or shows, because they wanted those who saw it to feel as if they were in Morocco. The result is my (personal) favorite pavilion at Epcot.
     During the planning for Epcot, the Disney company was having a very hard time getting other governments to buy into the idea and pay for the construction of their pavilion around the lagoon. In the end, Disney ended up finding corporate sponsors for all of the pavilions, except for Morocco. The government of Morocco sent representatives to Epcot and met with Disney, and actually ended up designing and constructing their own pavilion. Keep this in mind while you stroll through the streets and into the beautiful and empty rooms. This place was designed and built by the same people who are responsible for the buildings of the real Rabat. My favorite place to relax here is... well it's a tie. First, there is a room off to the left when you enter the pavilion under the big arch past the fountain. This room is covered in blue tile and the walls are ornate and accented with dark wood. The room gives a sense of sacredness and dignified reverence. There is a fountain against the back wall, which gives life to the room at the same time. Enjoy this spot. Second, walk to the back of the pavilion, just past the giant door to Restaurant Marrakesh. here you will see a fountain and a bench. Sit down. Chances are you will spend several minutes in this spot and not see another soul. This gives you an opportunity to look around and think about the message of this place:
     Though the world seems to be in eternal conflict, representatives of eleven nations, each with their own nationalism, work together and share in each others' joy around one lake in the middle of Florida, because that's what the people of the world actually want. 

     So, do you have your own spots at which you like to relax? Leave a comment! Let's talk! I hope you enjoyed my list! More to come!

Ten Places to do Nothing for a Half Hour at Walt Disney World (Pt. 1)

     Walt Disney World is exhausting. Even I, as a 22-year-old, need (and want) to sit back, listen to music, and watch other people do the adventuring for a little while. Here are my ten favorite places in Walt Disney World to spend a half hour doing nothing but thinking and looking. I encourage to not even take out your phone or your book, or even to take a nap. These spots are worth taking in just as they are. Let me know if you disagree, or have other suggestions! Here are the first five:

1. The Bench at the Yacht Club
     There's a nice and ambiguous title for you! And while there are many good benches on which you can plant your rear at Disney's Yacht Club Resort, there is one in particular which makes all of my troubles melt away. Do this one on a day at EPCOT. After you watch Illuminations, and are once again reminded that the world can be a beautiful and cooperative place, take a stroll past France and out of the International Gateway. Walk along Crescent Lake, past the beautiful closed pool in all of its night-time romance. Stroll past the lighthouse dock at the Yacht Club, and look for white benches on the right hand side of the boarded walkway. The one furthest from the lighthouse is my personal favorite. Have a seat! Look over at the Boardwalk and listen to the night-time entertainment. See the lights. Listen to the soft music coming from the resort behind you. Watch couples and families stroll past you, and give them a smile. You're all in a special and incredibly peaceful place.
         *Hint: take your significant other here.

2. Arusha Rock
     The Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of my favorite places in Walt Disney World. Just walking into the lobby will make you feel like you're in Africa and at your peaceful home at the same time. But the lobby isn't even the best part! Keep going past the gurgling stream and big couches, walk down the stairs toward the monolithic overgrown window, and walk outside. Whether it's day or night, this rock into the savanna gives you some of the most up-close views of grazing and relaxed animals. My favorite spot is the last outcropping on the right-hand side. This is the furthest spot from the lodge, and is therefore usually the least crowded. Have a seat on the bench, take in a bit of Florida sun, or the beautiful night-time noises and lights, and watch a giraffe eat slowly from a tree.

3. Tomorrowland Terrace
     Formerly a Noodle Station, and occasionally a counter-service restaurant of the Magic Kingdom, this stretch between Main Street and Tomorrowland provides lots of shade. On top of that, it is almost always empty! Disney has decided to not decide what to do with the space, but leaves the tables and chairs out for those smart enough to come by and sit. And the true asset of this spot is the view of the Magic Kingdom central hub and Cinderella Castle. You can watch the corny and lovable shows that Disney puts on in front of the castle, or just listen to the music of Main Street and think about life. From this spot, you can also look down to the ...err... moat (?) of the castle and see the boat dock where once-upon-a-time guests could embark on small boats for a little ride.
     *Hint: In a Florida thunderstorm, hit this spot. You can sit shielded from the rain and lightning, and watch the castle and hub be pounded with rain. If you have a soft spot for melancholy, or like music by Debussy, check this out.

4. Grand Floridian Beach Sand
     Classic, right? If you have a spare hour on your Magic Kingdom day, or are staying at the Grand Floridian (you lucky jerk), head on down toward the sandy beach at Disney's "flagship" resort. From my experience, there is usually not a single other person on this beach, which is a puzzle to me. From here, you can look left and see the castle, see the Contemporary, keep an eye on the Polynesian, and laugh at the ugliness that is the TTC (Transportation and Ticket Center). Are you as pale as me? Cool! You can sit under one of the canopies that Disney has scattered on the beach. My personal favorite thing about this spot is the theming. I cannot help but feel that I need to be wearing knickers and a frilly shirt for the purposes of enjoying my Victorian getaway. I, being a patron of ragtime and all things turn-of-the-century, love forgetting that the year 1920 has come and gone. And if you really have free time, stick around until dark and watch the Seven Seas Lagoon Water Pageant from here!
     *Psst: If you look at the Island closest to the Polynesian, and squint through the trees, you can see the remnants of the wave-producing machine that is still left on the island, though it is overgrown. When the Polynesian first opened, it had a wave system that allowed guests to swim and even surf on the Seven Seas Lagoon.

5. Main Street (After Closing)
     You may be thinking, "so do I have to break in to the Magic Kingdom at night?". My response would be, "No! And please don't! And if you do, and end up in jail, don't mention my blog!".
     Here's the dish: The Magic Kingdom closes most nights at fireworks time. However, the park remains open(ish) for an hour after "closing". Now right after the fireworks, there is a mass exodus of rampaging tourists that will run over you if you're not careful. You, however, will find a seat with a view of the Castle, and stick around for twenty minutes until it is mostly just you and some friendly cast members. The motion of the Park will try to get you to walk through the gift shops on your way out, but you again will outsmart them. You will walk down the LEFT side of Main Street, and find another seat. The music that is played in the Magic Kingdom for the last hour of operation is truly beautiful. The blinking lights of the clocks and shops of Main Street are some of the most beautiful and uplifting sights in the world (in my opinion). Then you can look to the right and see a giant colored piece of architecture, standing so regally, and beckoning you to drop your pretentiousness, and buy into what this place represents and stands for. You'll emotionally and mentally revel and surrender to the whimsy and positivity that this space brings to the hearts of all who are there. Then, an hour after closing, you can mosey along toward the train station, and smile at what good comes from this place.

     Part 2 coming soon!

Friday, April 18, 2014

What is This Thing anyway?

     Hey friend! My name is William, and I am a dedicated and passionate fan of Walt Disney World. Through my dozens of trips over the last ten (or so) years, I've come to not only love the feel and and aura of the World of the mouse, but also become more and more surprised and delighted by the ethic and message behind the Disney Parks company and the fan community on which it relies. This page will not only be a place for me to post my thoughts on the best way to spend your Disney World vacation, but also a community center for fans to come and discuss (and maybe debate) about my favorite place, and yours, in the world. Please keep comments positive! Thank you for your visit!