Thursday, February 26, 2015

4 Walt Disney World Attractions that Exemplify Imagineering-ness

     Disney is constantly inventing, tweaking, and plussing their parks. The entire Imagineering department of the company is dedicated to nothing but adding new facets to the Disney theme park experience. There is a spirit among these people that is always moving, re-imagining, and somehow never at rest. Imagineering never really pats itself on the back. Today, I want to share the four attractions that I think show the true heart of Imagineering in Walt Disney World. My criteria are as follows: The attraction must give the guest more than they were expecting. It must break new ground in some way. It must be a powerful positive experience for the guest.

  1. Haunted Mansion: For this one, I could have chosen Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, or a series of other attractions. They all possess the same intangible quality that has turned them into cult-ish sensations in Disney Parks. In the Haunted Mansion, Disney could have simply created some scary rooms and a couple ghost figures and called it good. However, they chose to create ground-breaking illusions by contracting special-effects experts in their field, hire professional musicians and song-writers to create the original and catchy score, bring in fantastic voice actors to be your ghost hosts, and write and stick to a story that is continuous throughout the entire attraction. You want to see Disney Imagineering at its most classic? Ride the Haunted Mansion.
  2. Expedition Everest: I have to explain this one a bit. Many of you will notice that Expedition Everest is the same story and principle of Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland Park. However, Expedition Everest is a massive improvement on that ride. Disney could have built a Matterhorn ride in Disney World. It would have been incredibly popular! However, they instead sent a huge team of researchers to Nepal, built the most complicated Animatronic figure every created for the new Yeti, and to a "t" recreated a Nepalese village at the base of Mount Everest. Further? They made a ride that is smooth, thrilling, tells a story, and goes backward and forward. This is a masterpiece. In Disneyland, Walt created the first steel-roller coaster ever. In Walt Disney World, the Imagineers took that concept and turned it into something spectacular and newly innovative.

  3. Kilimanjaro Safaris Disney's Safari ride is unique. Sure there are other rides that you can go on which will show you animals from a vehicle. They're everywhere. Disney here took that idea and plussed it over and over until they made something fantastic. What is so ground-breaking here? Well, when you go through the ride, it seems like all of the animals exist in the same area. It feels like you are simply travelling through an open-area, and like one animal could go where it wants. You can't see a bit of the enclosure. However, Disney has expertly hidden walls, wires, and other little tricks which keep the lions away from the giraffe. In addition, there is a story here. The animals are actors in the story in which you are a part. There is a point to this ride: poaching is wrong because the animals of Africa are worth protecting. Disney is standing for something.
  4. Tower of Terror: For the sake of this article, I am referring to the Hollywood Studios version in Florida. You'll see why. In the Tower of Terror, Disney took two ideas and combined them. First, they took the story of a haunted hotel, full of detail and hidden story elements. It is a perfect, beautiful, absorbent aesthetic experience. To this, they added an up-and-down style thrill ride. With the combination of these two elements, they created a thrilling, exciting, beautiful, story-based attraction. The real kicks here are the surprises. Guests go on expecting to get into an elevator and go up and down real' fast. However, once you get up to the right floor, you start moving... forward. you move through a vortex of hotel/twilight zone space, and are shocked when you suddenly find yourself in an elevator shaft being dropped or lifted in random sequence. This attraction is a perfect example of Disney doing much more than guests are expecting. 
     Which attractions would you have chosen for this article? 
     Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

5 Reasons to Stay at Disney's Beach Club Resort

     There is some debate among Disney fans as to the most "convenient" of the Resort Hotels at Walt Disney World. You could argue for the Resorts along the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, The ones right next to Disney Springs, or even the Swan and Dolphin for being half-way between two parks. My money, however, goes to The Beach Club. Now, I have to say that I am extremely biased when it comes to this decision. The Beach Club is my favorite hotel on property, and it isn't really all that close. I won't give it all away right out of the gate though. Here are my five reasons you are missing out if you don't stay at the Beach Club:

  1. Convenience: Ok, I'm going here right away. The convenience of the Beach Club cannot be overstated. In fact, there is no other hotel on property that is so close to a park (not to mention that Epcot is the best park). In some rooms at the Beach Club, you can walk out the door and into Epcot in four minutes. The only thing keeping you from Epcot is a perfectly quiet, quaint, beautiful walk next to the Crescent Lake Canal and alongside France, through the beautiful and private International Gateway. No matter where you stay at the Beach Club, you are in very easy walking distance to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. You can also stroll over to the Boardwalk for some entertainment, across to the Swan and Dolphin for a nice meal, or out onto the beach to enjoy the sun. In short, there is no beating the location here.
  2. The Pool: Once again, this hotel wins the pool contest, leaving all others in the dust. Stormalong Bay, as it's called, features the longest and fastest water slide in the resort pools, which stretches from an abandoned pirate ship on the beach, across the walking path, through the rock-work, and back into the resort. It has a sand bottom, with little sinking sections that will make you feel like you're never going to get out. It has a whirlpool to swim against, a pool-side beach for making sandcastles, several secluded and hidden hot tubs, a children's area, and tons of pool-side chairs, refreshments, seats, umbrellas, and space. You can also play pool volleyball and other games at certain times during the day. This pool is worth staying at this resort all by itself. Check it out.
  3. Beaches and Cream: Do you often feel like a hot dog and milk-shake while you're on your vacation? This little soda shop, taken directly from Miami in the 1950's, will bring you to ice cream and eats heaven. The hot dogs and burgers are amazing. The sundaes are all great (No Way Jose being my favorite). The atmosphere and juke-box and waiters will all make your day. If you're feeling particularly ambitious, try the Kitchen Sink. Think they're joking? The sundae comes in an actual kitchen sink, and features every type of ice cream they sell, an entire can of whipped cream, cookies, brownies, cake, sprinkles, caramel, fudge, and everything... including the kitchen sink.
  4. General Aesthetic: Being at this resort is one of those things in my life that truly relaxes me. Combine the Victorian beach theme of the Grand Floridian, and add some blues and more intimacy and seclusion, and you have the feel of this place. The lobby, rooms, pool, walkways, hallways, and staff all take you to a sunny place of knickers, ragtime, beach balls, and faint shades of pink and blue. Come here and just soak it in. You will not want to leave.
  5. What's Nearby: I know, I already talked about how close the Beach Club is to Epcot. Here, however, I am referring to its location as being in the center of all the fun, but also in a dimly lit and warm corner of Walt Disney World. The Epcot Resort Area is different from the others in that it isn't the first place most people think of in Walt Disney World. After a day at Epcot, come walk along the Boardwalk and see some magicians. It will be lively, but not loud. Watch some amazing pianists at JellyRolls. It will be charming, but not overly-intoxicated or trashy. Check out the giant fountains at the Dolphin, and walk along the side of the lake. And after all of this fun, walk back to the Beach Club. Listen to the soft music playing, crickets chirping, and hear the rest of the people still over at the Boardwalk, lights flashing and crowds cheering. You, however, sit by the warmly lit and sleepy pool. The windmills slowly turn in the breeze, and you retire to await your next morning at whatever park you want to visit.

     So have I sold you? What's your favorite part of the Beach Club? Follow and join the discussion!

-William Tollefson

Friday, February 13, 2015

Walt Disney World Speedway to Close

     Disney announced recently that it would be closing its on-property racing track, which has played host to several events and attractions over the years, to make room for improved transportation. It is not known exactly what will replace the track, but it could be a parking lot, bus maintenance station, or other kind of hub for transportation. It looks to me most likely that it will make way for an expansion of the Magic Kingdom parking lot.
     The speedway opened in 1996, and immediately hosted several important Indy Car Racing events, which were hugely successful. Around 2000, it stopped hosting races, and was used as a location for Walt Disney World experiences. The two most notable of these were the Richard Petty Driving Experience, and the Exotic Driving Experience. The Richard Petty Driving Experience gave guests the experience of driving NASCAR-type autos at high speeds around the track with the assistance of a professional. The latter Exotic car experience gave guests the opportunity to drive Ferraris and Lamborghinis around the track.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Animal Kingdom's new Night Show: Rivers of Light Construction Update

     Disney announced fairly recently that it would be bringing a new "night-time spectacular" to its Animal Kingdom park in Walt Disney World. This park has been dying for a reason to stay open until after dark, and this is one of many reasons the mouse is giving us to spend our evenings with the animals. The others obviously are related to the coming land of Pandora. I recently was able to gather a couple photos of the construction for Rivers of Light. It will take place on the lagoon between Asia, Dinoland USA, and Discovery Island. Here are the pictures: (click to enlarge)

     There are a few things we can gather here. First, these pictures are taken from the bridge leading from Asia to Dinoland. The construction on the far side of the lake, therefore, is that of building and extending a viewing area for the show, which will be on the lagoon. We don't know yet whether there will be seating (like Fantasmic!), or if it will be a standing show, (like World of Color at Disney's California Adventure).
     Second, we see that there are things afoot under the water. I am guessing that Disney is building all sorts of wonderful magic machines to put under the water. We also know that there are plans to include lights on the Tree of Life, as well as fountain and laser effects. One might guess that Disney's new projection system (now used on Cinderella Castle for different night-time shows) could have a huge impact on this show.
     It is exciting thinking about what Disney is up to! I'll keep you updated.

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-William (

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Small Treasure in Walt Disney World: The Calliope

     One of my favorite things to do in Walt Disney World is to run around in search of places and items with historical significance. These little treats are littered everywhere around Disney property, and only require you to do a little research. This time, I want to talk about the calliope at Tri-Circle D Ranch at Fort Wilderness Resort.
     Fort Wilderness is a monster. It has a bus and boat system to get you there, and a bus system to get you from the resort to anywhere else in the resort. It's big. However, it is well worth the effort to visit the Tri-Circle D Ranch (named aptly for the tri-circled emblem of the Disney company). If you wander your way around the Ranch, you will first see many of the horses Disney uses on Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom, as well as some famous animals from shows and movies. But this time I want to focus on the giant musical instrument/parade float/train car that you will find in one of the buildings. Here it is:

     This is a calliope, or a pipe organ played by moving the vehicle. It functions similarly to an old player-piano, with sheets of metal and holes and pins. This calliope holds significant historical value for Disney. Created in 1907, it was used initially in England as part of a circus. Later, Walt saw the calliope outside a small amusement park in Los Angeles in the 1940's and purchased it "as is" from the owner. Once fixed up, it joined several other calliopes to form part of Disneyland's Mickey Mouse Club parade upon the opening of Disneyland in 1955. It served briefly there, and then functioned mostly as decoration.
     Eventually, with no further for so many calliopes, Walt donated all of them to museums in 1962, except for this one. The dragon calliope since has appeared in a few Disney movies, and in 1981 was moved to Walt Disney World to be part of the tenth birthday celebration of the Florida park. Since then, the calliope has served in a few parades, and rolled down Main Street as recently as 2013. 
     The calliope today acts mostly as a connection to Walt himself. It inspired him and his daughters in their dream of building a park where families could go together. In disrepair, they bought it and made it something beautiful for Disneyland. And one might say that Walt's vision came to life in his parks. 
     Want to see a fun homage to this very calliope in Disneyland? Check out the second car on the Casey Jr. Train ride next time you're there. It was modeled after this very instrument:

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