Friday, June 29, 2007

Interview with an Eight Year Old

All of the recent discussions about Epcot made me curious about some of my son's preferences and thoughts regarding Walt Disney World. Although we talk about WDW all of the time, we are usually discussing memories. I wanted to delve a little deeper.

We, the Disney Geeks, came up with a series of very scientific questions that we are going to pose to our blogging neighbors. Sort of a get to know you section. What follows is a transcript of the interview using some of the questions:

Dad: What is your earliest Disney memory?
Son: Sitting in Grandma's wheelchair at a fork in the road at the Magic Kingdom (editor's note, 2001 trip)

Dad: What is your single favorite attraction?
Son: That's easy--Star Tours.

Dad: What is your favorite Disney and non-Disney movie?
Son: Chicken Little. I love that one. Non-Disney movie, hmm. Star Wars: Episode III

Dad: What is your least favorite park?
Son: Out of all of them? Straight shot. Animal Kingdom. It is just boring.

Dad: What is your favorite park?
Son: Disney-Mgm Studios. It is just incredibly cool. Action in real life. It is totally awesome. I like Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, The Muppet 3D. There's a lot of cool stuff in there, but one that I totally hate, The Great Movie Ride

Dad:Who is your favorite Disney character?
Son: (snickers like Muttley) Gonzo, he is funny at the start of every show.

Dad: What is your favorite Disney song?
Son: That Chicken Little song, "End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)" (editor's note, R.E.M.)

Dad:If you could switch places with any historical or living Disney employee, who would it be and why?
Son: I can only remember one, Walt Disney.

Dad: What is you're must eat food at WDW?
Son: Easy one. Beaver tails. They are just irresistable.

Dad: Favorite place to stay at WDW?
Son: Polynesian

Dad: What is your favorite place to be at WDW?
Son: In the Disney-MGM studios at christmas time for the Osbourne Spectacle of Lights

Dad: What is your favorite restaurant?
Son: Rose and Crown. Food is incredible, there. And I like the really big cups (editor's note: he is talking about my Souvenir Half Yard of Guinness at the Rose and Crown...geeez)

Dad: What is the first thing you want to do on your next trip?
Son: Go to the Disney-MGM Studios and see the Indiana Jones Show.

Dad: What is your favorite fireworks show?
Son: Fantasmic

Dad: Why do you like Epcot
Son: Because of the World Showcase.
Son: The gift shops, the food and sometimes the countries.
Dad:Favorite country?
Son: Japan, because of the gift shop. Lots of Pokemon. I like the manatees. You know, that place at Epcot. Are we done yet?

Happy Birthday to The Disney Blog!

John Frost at The Disney Blog is celebrating the third anniversary of his site.

Run over there and post a quick congratulations to John.

I really enjoy The Morning Round-Up and John's unique take on Disney information world-wide. If The Disney Blog isn't in your aggregator or your feed--add it now.

And now, a word from John:

The years of 2005 through 2016 are likely to be remembered as the Walt Disney Company's Golden Decade. From the Pirate's film franchise to theme park resurgence (and the announcement of two new domestic theme parks toward the end of the decade), from Disney Interactive's new initiatives to ABC and the Disney Channel's biggest decade yet, and much more. These next ten years will be Mousetacular! My aim is The Disney Blog to be there covering it all and I hope you will be there with me to enjoy it. Thank you.

No, John--Thank you!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What Would Walt Do? Part Three

Talk about timing. John Frost at The Disney Blog pointed me towards this link about the name change (or lack of) to the Disney-MGM Studios. Apparently, they are only going to rename the section of the Studios that will feature Toy Story Mania.
So this does change my intent for the third part in the What Would Walt Do series--sort of.

Let's look at something a little different: appeal.

What about the internal forces that Disney has to deal with in order to please the stock holders and the customers. They know they have to make money to please the stock holders, but they also need to bring people into the parks to make money and sell merchandise. You've got to appeal to all these different sides. You have to appeal to Imagineering--give them the creativity, give them the power and give them the ability to do what they need to do.

The stock holders not only have to realize they are making money for themselves, but they are building the future of the company. I read in a blog post somewhere that the baby-boomers are just destroying the current economy because they only are looking after themselves, they don't care if in 15 years the company is going to make profit--they want their money now. Of course, that is a very broad and general statement. Most people want their money, prize, reward--whatever--right now! Disney has to deal with this aspect in the theme parks, the movie franchises and everywhere else that they go. It's just big part of what they have to do.

Disney must realize that they have to push that angle. Instant gratification. Not only do they have to get the nostalgia going and the stockholders happy but they have to bring the people into the park. People have to want to be there and share it. Foxxfur (from Passport to Dreams Old and New) has written a wonderful post on Jeff Pepper's blog entitled Attack of the 20 Billion Dollar Expansion. She received a lot of heat for this post. Mainly from people misinterpreting her meaning. She loves the Disney Parks and this was obviously a cry to look at expansion for expansion's sake. And money for nothing--just open the gates to the Magic Kingdom and they will come. No matter how many complaints, nor how empty Epcot or the Animal Kingdom is.

Foxxfur writes:

And yet, terrifyingly, park attendance numbers continue to climb and soon you won’t even be able to go into Magic Kingdom on any day of the week without being slaughtered alive by ravenous Disney Dining Plan equipped theme park commandos because you’re standing between them and the Fast Pass machine. Considering that on many days EPCOT and Animal Kingdom can’t reach the numbers they’re capable of, Disney doesn’t care: they’ll push people through those Magic Kingdom turnstiles until nobody can move on Main Street and if anybody strikes a match everybody’ll burn alive because it doesn’t matter what the Guest Experience is like now that they’ve already got your money.

So looking at this comment, your gut reaction might be that it is pretty hateful towards Disney. It's not. Trust me. Taken in context of the entire article, Foxxfur is driving home the point that Disney is openly creating demand for demand. They are looking at the biggest demographic with biggest desire to spend as much money as possible to experience the dream. My educated guess of the largest demographic, based on the commercials and marketing, would be families with at least two kids. But look at the most popular park, the Magic kingdom--it is featured on most all of the advertising--with little girls dressed up as princesses and little boys emulating Captain Jack. So what else are parents to do? The kids only want to see Nemo at Epcot, so it is back to the Magic Kingdom. And the Animal Kingdom is way too large and way too green to keep the kids attention. Sure, it has some great attractions, but they require a lot of focus without nary a character in sight (besides Bug's Life and the whole Camp Mickey-Minnie section).

Foxxfur continues:

Disney ought to be reducing their attendance cap at Magic Kingdom and MGM and start outlawing traditional strollers in the park and helping guests enjoy themselves and stop shoveling more price effective and price gouging “punishment packages” at guests hoping they won’t notice they’re being conned. But they won’t. They’ll build more resorts and try to drag in more people and offer nothing in the way of a pressure relief valve until it’s too late.

Wow. The above paragraph really got me. "Punishment packages" and the word conned. She must be talking about the extremely popular and maddening Disney Dining Plan, Extra Magic Hours and Magic Your Way plan.. For starters, no one (including Disney employees) really knows how the Disney Dining Plan works. You stumble and fumble for a few days until you kinda wrap your brain around it. It's not too difficult, really. It's just the amount of pre-planning that goes into it that can best even the most ardent park commandos. And the complaints that I have heard from people with completely different experiences; it seemed like the Dining Plan rules changes for them based on the day. I won't even get into the tiered and hierarchical Magic Your Way Plans. You pretty much just have to trust whatever your travel agent, favorite website or blog author says (wink, wink). But look at Foxx's other comment: helping guests enjoy themselves. Seriously, this is what needs to happen. Somehow. Whether it is a graduated FastPass plan, multiple Dining Plan offerings (or a complete re-vamp), or making the other parks more like the Magic Kingdom. Or maybe it is just letting the customers in the gates to enjoy themselves instead of throwing these supposed value-added packages. All to get you to stay on property for longer periods of time. Also, what does this do to the non-hotel guests? Limits their hours and their dining choices. I am all for the ultimate Walt Disney World experience (hotel, etc), but I can empathize with the bewildered day visitors and annual passholders that can miss out on so much.

More from Foxxfur:

And meanwhile the parks deteriorate because management is terrified that these people will stage a revolt if something is closed (if you doubt this one, you should’ve seen Orlando Pirates between April and July last year) because they’ve been planning this trip for years and Disney can’t get its’ act together to actually work on the time table they’re encouraging guests to have to plan on. It’s disgusting that you have to make dining reservations months in advance, but that’s the way Disney wants it. They’ve dug themselves into a hole they can’t even function inside of.

So, you've got the foamers and purists screaming for Disney to leave the parks alone--as Walt would have wanted, no less--and the pollyanna's raving about the good times ahead now that Iger is letting the creative types run the ship again. (I'm a pollyana, in case you didn't know). You can read my earlier posts about Walt to get a more detailed answer. But basically, Walt would have wanted the parks changing and evolving. Not only to keep up with demand and popularity, but to also create a place that people can share, dream about and write really long blog posts about every little detail (tongue in cheek).

Foxxfur loves the parks as much as you (why would you read this otherwise?) and she still was on the receiving end of a lot of hate from people who didn't really read the post. So visit her blog and Jeff's. Show them the support and love they deserve and warrant.

Now, on with the show!

Transforming Epcot into the Magic Kingdom

More people visit the Magic Kingdom than Epcot. Why? Is it the baby-boomers? Look at the Princess and Pirate Parties that are so huge and the Bippity-Boppity-Boutique. So much cash is being outlaid by baby-boomers and gen-xer's because they want their kids to have these great magical moments. They want their kids to love Disney as much as they do. Not everyone has kids, but the Magic Kingdom has more of that nostalgia stuff that we've been talking about than all the other parks combined. And don't forget, that the Magic Kingdom looks remarkably like her older sister, Disneyland--Walt's creation. Whew, I can smell the nostalgia from here!

Faced with a park with very little in the way of traditional character (Figment, anyone?), the suits figured that Epcot needed some characterization. The Magic Kingdom was popular from the get go. Why? Because we all knew what to expect. We saw Uncle Walt talk about Disneyland. It was a property that most of us knew by heart. Even though the Magic Kingdom is much grander in scope, it still mirrors the charm and carries most of the substance of Disneyland. Everyone is familiar with the icons: the castle, Dumbo, Pirates and the Haunted Mansion. I bet you that first-time visitors wouldn't be able to tell you anything about the other four parks (unless they do their homework first!).

So, a few of the original attractions are pulled out to make way for some thrill rides. Figment gets some plastic surgery. Thrills abound, but what about the characters? Are we really looking for characters? Seriously, what are we expecting from Epcot? Was it ever defined? Did we know what we were getting? Do we know what we have? Did Disney know how to market Epcot?

I am looking for a dare to be great situation. -- Lloyd Dobbler.

The installation of Nemo has caused such heartbreak, mirth, consternation and anger. How many of you have ridden the Sea Cabs before they were turned off? Stand up...lemme count...not that many, huh?

Nemo, as a property, is huge. Nemo is beloved by almost every child under the age of 12. The whole family knows Nemo. The parents have watched the movie over and over again.They can recite the lines of the characters. Nemo is a perfect addition to Epcot because it deals with fish. It is actually a Disney property that can be entertaining and educational at the same time (Mr. Ray, anyone?).

Now we get to the core issue. You never get the scope of being under water in the Nemo attraction. Or of being part of their world. It just wasn't large and grand like it needed to be. It was just a small ride. You needed to experience Nemo. You needed to know what it was like to be searching for Nemo--but not just a game of peek-a-boo. It needed to have more of a sense of urgency. While being a lovely game of peek-a-boo for toddlers; it can cause some consternation for the people spending their money. When I rode the original Sea Cabs in 1994 and 1997, I remember a feeling of traveling through the aquarium. Even though you didn't see much, you still had this sense of a huge attraction.

I was listening to the MouseGuest podcast. There was a comment on the podcast from a listener that talked about Nemo at Epcot. The listener said that it is terrible and it doesn't fit in Epcot. Okay, so, I am wanting to scream at my MP3 player that the statement is complete crap. It is a fish ride--at an aquarium--of course it fits. I think the problem the listener was talking about dealt with the fact that the property of Nemo itself is too large for the existing ride. It doesn't make sense, as a ride that small, in such a large theme park and show building.

In my opinion, it looks like Imagineering under shot on many different levels. The age of the attraction visitors being the biggest misinterpretation. The technology was awesome. I really just can't convey how cool the effects were. At the same point, I got off of the ride and thought, "This is for Nemo?" It is the largest grossing Disney animated film ever and you get this tiny little attraction, I mean that's the big problem that people have with the ride.

On the same MouseGuest Weekly show, Dan and Eric had a few great points--not only about Nemo--but about all the outcry over the supposed invasion of Pixar. Here is a loose and generalized quote: "don't hate the attraction because you think it's in the wrong place, judge it based on its ride". They also said that they don't mind the changes happening in Tomorrowland due the adding of Pixar based attractions. Simply because you know that they are great rides and great attractions that the Imagineers are adding to the parks.

So, what are we looking at? The opportunity to change the face of Epcot. To make it more appealing and broaden that appeal to more age groups. Mission: Space and Test Track definitely give the thrill seekers and the teens and tweens something to get excited about. Nemo is capturing the hearts of toddlers and pre-schoolers. It seems that everyone loves Soarin'.

As a nod to classic Disney animation, we have to look no further than the overlay of the Three Caballeros to El Rio del Tiempo. I enjoyed this ride before the overlay. Mainly because my kids liked it. And it was air-conditioned. And it never had much of a wait. The reviews have been mixed, but a lot of people thought that the overlay was a good addition to the ride. It added a very familiar character and introduced two new ones--new for a lot of people, anyway. It was great to see the Imagineers do something to the older attraction. Especially with the addition of such a classic animated film. Still, why aren't people screaming and yelling about the Gran Fiesta Tour at the Mexico Pavilion? Because it is an update to an attraction that wasn't getting much attention in the first place. And because it wasn't overlayed with an extremely popular character and brand. (I know, Donald is HUGE--but he is everywhere, too). But in my opinion, they didn't make the overlay at the Mexico Pavilion seem smaller.

But What Would Walt Do? I think he would smile and tell the Imagineers to keep moving forward. Keep trying new things. Make the parks the places that people want to be. The places they will want to bring their family and friends. The places where memories will be made and shared.

See, all of the purists want to keep everything tucked tightly inside a glass jar--just like Beast with his enchanted rose. We have to remember that Walt made significant changes to Disneyland from 1955 to 1966. It is to be expected. The theme parks need to grow or else they will become stagnant. A lot of bloggers have been championing John Lasseter and Ed Catmull. Robert Iger has seen fit to give them the power and let them run free. We've seen what adding Lasseter to the Nemo Submarine ride has done at Disneyland. The web is glowing with the positive reviews of this attraction. From comments, it looks like the submarine ride has a much better fit. And it has retained and re-imagined its nostalgia.

I guess my final words would be that, no matter what, we can't go back to 1982; We can retain and keep the spirit of 1982 in future attractions and shows.

--Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world. (Walt Disney)

Thanks to Foxxfurr, Jeff, John, Honor and Ray for the inspiration and much needed changes to this series.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bob Iger is Rocking My World!

Honor Hunter at Blue Sky Disney has been doing a great job keeping up with the news out of Glendale, Imagineering and the Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Jeff Pepper wrote a wonderful piece about Pixar, Lasseter and Ed Catmull on 2719 Hyperion. He also gives a shout out to Honor.

I hope that anyone who reads the Disney Geeks is also checking out their sites as well. We have excitedly placed their links in our Geek Out! section.

Click through this link to see all of the Lasseter related articles that Honor has done.

I think Honor sums up a lot feelings of the Disney online community with the following phrase:

Bob Iger is clearly showing a great deal of respect for the Creatives. It's so refreshing to have an executive who doesn't have to always BE the spotlight. He understands that if he just gets out of the way... Great things are possible.

Great things indeed. What a great time to be a Disney fan.

Another particularly great quote from Honor:

A new course had been charted... one that most of us can't see yet. But one that is bright and beautiful. Like Cap'n Jack Sparrow said at the end of "Curse of the Black Pearl" when he took the wheel and looked off into the distance ahead of him:

"Bring me that horizon".

You don't know it yet, but that horizon's coming. And boy, is it beautiful. Lovely even... and there's not a Suits or Bean Counter in sight. Now isn't that something truly great to look forward to?

I thought so...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Yours Truly, Charles Ridgway

As I have grown older, I have noticed more and more that one word drives how I feel about the events and occurrences of my life. That word is context. Often I find myself unsure about the meaning of things until I put them in their proper context. The context of an event gives us perspective on how important that event is to us. See, that's the thing, importance is relative so the context is everything.

I have struggled recently with my feeling about the time I got to spend with Disney Legend, Charles Ridgway. Not because I felt anything but pure joy when I was reading his book and listening to him speak, but because I could not place the whole thing in the proper context.

For example, I was recently talking to my brother George (the other Disney Geek) and I was explaining the difference between the two Disney books I have recently consumed. Ridgway's book was pure fun and enjoyment. I loved every minute of it and read it in a few days. I am also reading The Disney War by James B Stewart. Honestly, I am loving both tomes but they are each special in their own way. In struggling to explain to him why I liked each book but felt that Disney War was more compelling, I proposed this theory:

Maybe because Ridgway is a press agent writing a book and Stewart is an author writing a book, the Stewart book feels more compelling. Even though I love both books, I just can't put my finger on it.

There it is....I just can't put my finger on it...a cry for help to my lingual hero and savior: context.

A Disney Geek friend, Matt, was explaining to me that he liked the book as well but that he wished it went a little deeper. I understand what he meant and again relayed it back to the theory of the author or the journalist. Still, Matt wanted a little dirt in the stories and Charlie never strayed from his tone of adoration for Disney. I would not classify it as a deficiency from Charlie, because as I have said a million times already, I LIKES THE BOOK!

I just can't put my finger on it....

Then in a conversation about our recent time with Charlie, George delivered the context that explained why I felt the way I did. The book is not meant to be a scathing expose ala Barbarians at the Gate or a historic accounting with massive significance (think the 9/11 Commssion Report/Warren Commission Report). After a long career at Disney where he knew not only the man that started it all, but also the magic the permeates all the Disney-ites--this was Charlie's love letter to Disney. It's a look into the soul of Disney and those who made it what it is today. All of us have dreamed about being on the inside of the Disney family, especially during the Golden Years, and Charlie allows us to vicariously do what he did. We imagine ourselves talking with the original Imagineers at WED, walking the grounds of an unfinished Magic Kingdom, having an office in City Hall and being there on OPENING DAY!

That's it! I was enjoying the guilty pleasure of reading someone's long kiss goodnight and it was obvious--he loved the company he spent his life working for as much as I do. I could easily identify with him because we shared a passion. In sharing his passion with me, I was able to experience things through his eyes that I knew I could never experience. In the end he really helped define the soul of the company I recognize today.

I asked him if there was a moment or event in his time at Disney where he knew it was going to be Disney for the rest of his life. His reply underplayed any specific moment or event. At first I was disappointed, but after digesting it I realized that I had the advantage of seeing all of these amazing events in one long love letter. He lived them in between coffee breaks and paychecks. I don't know about you, but on coffee breaks at my work I have never lunched with Bob Hope or looked at sketches for a new attraction. Lucky us? Lucky him.

George, Charles Ridgway and Andrew

My dad put it well at dinner the other night. I was sharing my excitement with him and he commented, "You were talking to a piece of living history." Mmmm, more delicious context. Why was all of this important to me? Because everything I read, heard and saw, I absorbed. I was recording history for those it mattered to. See, general history is catalogued by the historians, the details are recorded by the geeks. There are geeks everywhere, bodies painted at sporting events, black t-shirts on at rock concerts, or with ten collectible cars in the garage. We come in all shapes and sizes and regardless of our geekness of choice, the details are counting on us.

Disney Rumor: Building a Better Mouse Trap?

The Disney Geeks have posted before about Disney building a Location Based Entertainment (LBE) center near us in Greensboro, NC.

Honor Hunter at Blue Sky Disney has just posted an article about LBE's, UEC's (Urban entertainment Complexes) and the Disney-MGM Studios name change--or the fact that it has to happen eventually.

Honor refers us to a great article by Kevin Yee at MiceAge. The biggest change that Kevin describes is not only a hotel and a theater--but the possibility of a major E-Ticket attraction as well. A reason for families to visit and stay at the Disney branded hotel. Most of Kevin's post is dreaming, but it does lead down some interesting paths.

Dig if you will the picture of a small River Country, Splash Mountain or minor Fantasyland park inside a major hotel complex in downtown Greensboro. Or why not a sports theme to coincide with the ACC Hall of Fame that is being planned? I can see an ESPN Zone hitting the mark--along with virtual sports games and attractions themed towards small town sports. Once section deals with the major sports in the area: baseball, football and basketball. What about a water park themed after the sports?

But what really gets this Disney Geek going is the thought of a Soarin' based attraction in Greensboro. Imagine having your choice of three different films: the original one in the parks now, one that showcases the best of Disney around the world and one that flies you into the greatest ACC games of all time. Imagine watching Michael Jordan during the 1982-1982 Chapel Hill season. Flying through historic games. And historic stadiums. Smells, sounds and motion.

What a night! Dinner at a fabulous Disney themed restaurant. A ride on Soarin' Over Disney world-wide and then a dessert at the ESPN Zone. Why not throw in a stroll through the highly interactive ACC museum? Or dance at the Disney night club? Then cap it off with a stay in the hotel. They could include some of the newer properties, like Turtle Talk with Crush or the Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor. Something that could be changed and updated fairly easily. And don't forget about virtual Space Mountain. But I digress. Disney would need to build something that would capture a family for a day or weekend. Business travelers could take advantage of it, but it would need to be geared for the family adventure. The Greensboro area has the International Furniture Market twice a year. Although this doesn't bring in familes, it fills up every hotel to capacity within a 75 mile radius. The ESPN Zone would be full for that week

Even if Disney does involve itself with the ACC Hall of Fame, it doesn't need to be married to it. The ACC Hall of Fame is such a hot property for Greensboro that sponsors would fall over each other to be involved.

Now we come back down to earth and look at some of the nitty-gritty:

When we examine the possibility of an attraction that would be appropriate for everyone and would fit the constraints of an LBE, we scanned the parks for an idea that would fit. The best attraction we came up with was Soarin'. It has a smaller footprint than a traditional roller coaster ride and the ability to customize/update with a new movie makes the idea fitting. Let's leave it up to the Imagineers to come up with a new and exciting variation that would fit the theme being offered. In scanning the internet for dissenters to Soarin', we were hard pressed to find anyone that did not love the ride (or at least find it appealing). We still have trouble believing that a piece of the magic could end up in our own backyard, even though the concept seems so intuitive:

  • half way between New York and Orlando
  • the heart of ACC country
  • a downtown that is in the infancy stages of revitalization. Real estate prices are still growing at a developer's pace, as opposed to being valued by the already revitalized area.
  • the proximity to major transportation (I-40/I-85 meet in Greensboro) and three international airports
  • the ability to promote the brand with a small weekend getaway type feel

What else could be in store for us?

Bring it on!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day Dreaming: At the parks...

Just celebrating Father's Day for all of you Disney Geeks out there. I wanted to share some pictures from past trips.

Taking a child to a Disney park is one of those amazing experiences. Of course, you love visiting and you spend relentless hours agonizing over dining reservations, crowd levels and ways to attack the parks.

That first trip with your son or daughter completely changes Walt Disney World forever. Seeing the joy, excitement and wonder brings back my first trip. Unable to effectively put into words what it is like to stroll down Main St. USA for the first time. Seeing Cinderella's Castle in the distance, you start to walk a little quicker. The music, the smells wafting from the candy shop and bakery and the silver Mickey shaped balloons floating above a cheerful cast member. The first time with your child is so different. You wait for their reaction, their excitement and their joy. It is truly palpable.

When they are very young, you enjoy simply being with them at the parks. You talk to them about what is around and you let them sample what upcoming trips are going to be. And you spend a lot of time keeping them well fed, changed and as cool as possible.

As the years and visits have come and gone, my idea of a perfect trip has changed somewhat. No longer do I get up at the crack of dawn and exhaust myself and my party (sorry, Lou). We are more relaxed and we take the time to let our boys experience Disney on their scale--and their level. My favorite attractions are still Splash Mountain, the Haunted Mansion and MuppetVision 3D, but we spend a lot of time on attractions that we can all enjoy. I am also doing my best to cultivate a love of specific attractions--the Jungle Cruise, Spaceship Earth and Star Tours.

On our last trip, we rode Buzz Lightyear and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority more times than anything but the monorail. When our youngest begs to do the blue roller coaster one more time (what both boys called the Tomorrowland Transit Authority their first time), we had to oblige. It wasn't important to race to Space--it was important to hold that little guy's hand and share true Disney Magic.

So kick back and relax. Plan that next Disney trip and think about spending time with the ones you love at the most magical place on earth.

Some of my favorite grandfather-related memories: taking my parents for the first time (and not telling my dad that Space Mountain was a roller coaster), knowing my dad would rather feed the youngest than ride the Tower of Terror and making sure that my dad took both of my boys on their first trips on Dumbo.

When I think back on trips with my boys: Star Tours, late nights at the Polynesian pool, running around DisneyQuest like crazy (no mommy), hitting the general store at Old Key West to get two Mickey bars before they close, remembering not to shoot on Buzz Lightyear so my score will be low, first trips on Spaceship Earth, watching the characters from afar (they are big, Daddy!) and carrying around two Pal Mickeys in my backpack all day (actually felt like a mini-massage when they both vibrated at the same time). But also knowing that we have memories and we will be making more memories. They have already begun counting down to the next trip!

Oh yeah, thanks for letting me share some of my favorite pictures on me and my boys at Walt Disney World.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What Would Walt Do? Part Two

When we parted last time, we were in the midst of a discussion about change. What Would Walt Do?

Not only about change; but to whom should Imagineering be pandering?
--Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world. (Walt Disney)

We also talked about the Carousel of Progress, Pirates and Toad. The conclusion to Part One could be summed up with the statement: Is Disney pandering to nostalgia instead of imagination and creativity?

I think it is more that the Disney Internet community (us fans) wants the nostalgia.

Which is ok, but not if it compromises creativity. When we saw Charles Ridgway speak at the Barnes & Noble in Winston-Salem (Thanks Jeff!), one comment really struck me and sort of fueled this post. He stated that Main St. USA at Disneyland was reminiscent of what grandparents of the 1950's remembered about their hometowns. They got it and they shared that emotion and that connection with their grandkids. Mr. Ridgway said the same thing about the Disney Studios. When it premiered in 1989, there were still a lot of people alive that remembered Hollywood from the 1930's. The icons, the stores and the places. They got it. They want to share it.

What do we have, in this generation, to share--to reminisce?

Attractions that we grew up with. That we lived. That we dreamed of. That gave us that visceral experience.

Lou and Jeff, on the WDW Radio Show, did a great segment about Horizons. A lot of people contacted them about it, including your's truly. We loved that ride. To us it encompassed the original vision for Epcot. Hope for today and hope for the future. I would have gladly taken my kids on Horizons. Now we have Mission: Space. I'm not sure when my kids will do that ride. It is a thrill ride. A physical thrill ride. Horizons worked on your brain. And your imagination. It was a great segment on the WDW Radio podcast, but it also made me sad. Sad for all of the people that won't get to experience it.

Nostalgia? Yep! Mission: Space is a great attraction. But it doesn't make me smile when I think about it.

Ok...back to change. For imagination and creativity. The bottom line. We all know that in the business world, Return On Investment (ROI) is very important. If something is affecting the bottom line, then you do something. Adding Jack Sparrow to Pirates makes a lot of sense. The movies were huge and the attraction was already a favorite. Adding parts from the films was a great small change. Apparently, the traffic to Horizons and the World of Motion wasn't quite cutting it. The same with The Living Seas. So a change was needed. For all of these attractions, we are also talking about the end of the Eisner era. A lot of consternation. A lot of unsure steps. A lot of suits. Creativity brushed aside for the bottom line. But wait! Doesn't Disney need to attract new guests? So, I do see the need for Mission: Space and Test Track. You have to re-invigorate. You have to update. You have to be able to get the 12-25 year-olds in the parks. So I can agree with adding a few thrill rides. But we will need something else in a few years.

Pandering to the bottom line? What kind of damage is this going to do in the future?

Imagineering not only creates the attractions; one would hope that they see themselves as stewards of the future of Disney.

This begs the question of the modern attractions. What will we think of them in 20 years? Will there be a Save Mission: Space movement? Will there be sit-ins? But also, what has been wrought upon the parks? Disney's California Adventure is still struggling. It needs an identity. It needs stellar attractions. It needs a compelling reason for people to visit. Is there any attraction, besides Soarin' Over California, that would be missed? What about the attractions created in the wane of Eisner and the rise of Iger (and Lasseter)? The ones that just simply don't have it? Are we going to want to share these attractions with our family and friends? Will we rave about them? Probably not. Will we care about them in 20 years?

Four words: Journey Into Your Imagination.

When I rode Journey for the first time in 1994, I knew the ride needed to be updated. What made sense to change at the time? The color scheme. It was so 1983. So, they’ve redone it a few times since 1998. It just doesn’t have the magic.

As in the last post, I urge you to think about your last trip and your next trip to Walt Disney World. What did you wait to see? What attractions did you experience more than once? Where did you spend your time? What are you looking forward to doing? What ride will you not miss?


Before I finish up this post, I want to leave you with a look at Part Three: Disney and the Invasion of Pixar.

Is the Nemo the appropriate character for the Living Seas? Is it even an appropriate ride for the movie property that it represents? John Frost, from The Disney Blog, has given me another angle to look at: Why would Disney think about renaming the Disney Studios as the Disney Pixar Studios when the Pixar characters are flooding the other parks—and are not really in the Disney Studios.

What do you think?

What Would Walt Do? Part 1.5

Not a real post from me--I just wanted to send you over to read Honor Hunter's post entitled Creative Shockwave on his blog, Blue Sky Disney.

He is writing some great posts that go hand in hand with the Disney Geeks "What Would Walt Do" series.

He talks about the new Nemo submarine ride and Pirates' Lair at Disneyland--and what it means to Imagineering. Honor also brings up the importance of Ratatoullie. How a lot of Lasseter's plans for Disney theme parks worldwide hinges upon Pixar's streak.

Check it out. Log in, say hi and leave an opinion. I know that Honor would love to have you!

Monday, June 11, 2007

What Would Walt Do? Part One

Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
Turtle Talk with Crush
The Seas with Nemo and Friends
Finding Nemo, the Musical
Monster's Inc Laugh Floor Comedy Club
Toy Story Mania

The Disney-Pixar Studios?

The Disney Geeks were debating some of the hot issues on the Disney blog-o-sphere and one that really stuck dealt with Pixar. Mainly the supposed invasion of Pixar into various areas where a theme has been established and may not mesh with the Pixar characters.

Like Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor or the Seas with Nemo and Friends. A lot of people are mad that Pixar characters have moved into Tomorrowland and Epcot. Posts abound about Walt's original vision for the parks. Would Walt have done this seems to be the battle cry from more than one person.

My original thought was that Walt would have wanted people having fun. Enjoying themselves. Bringing their kids, friends and families to share the magic. He would have wanted people having a good time at the parks.

Andrew (the other Disney Geek) brought up the oft-quoted statement from Walt about Disneyland. "Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world."

Most people would agree with change. New rides, new shows and new experiences; but at what cost they ponder. Losing Toad to Pooh was never that painful until I read Foxxfur's great posting. Granted, what was the attraction pulling in? How many times did you ride Toad before they Poohed on it? And I'm not talking about the Save Toad crowd, either. I mean you--on vacation with limited time to stand in line. What was your choice? Now the lines for Pooh are always more than 45 minutes.

The same goes for Timekeeper. I was able to see it twice before it was taken down. I loved it. But the crowds weren't there. And Horizons. And World of Motion.

A lot of people cry foul when they think of losing a niche attraction.

Recently, on an unnamed podcast, there were lots of comments about potential changes to the Carousel of Progress. So many people left a voicemail or emailed with the decree that the attraction should be left alone because Walt worked on it--that it was one of Walt's last attractions and it should remain the same.

Well. Not really. The ride was updated when it was moved from Disneyland to the Magic Kingdom in 1975. A new theme song was written and the final scene was moved from the 1960's to the 197o's. In 1981, the final scene was updated to show the 1980's. In 1994, the final scene was changed again to reflect the 2000's and the theme song was changed back to the original.

To me, this was a little more drastic than changing Pirates of the Caribbean--which is actually the last attraction that Walt worked on (at least the Disneyland one). Most everyone raved about the updated scenes with Captain Jack. Do you remember the changes made to Pirates a few years ago? The infamous chase scene? The one with the lusty pirates chasing after the women? Due to the politically correct nature of the time, the Imagineers actually switched the characters. It turned out to be the women chasing the pirates. Not quite as funny and not quite as much attention, either.

Are the anguished cries about Walt simply for nostalgia? With the creation of Main St. at the Magic Kingdoms, did Walt set a precedent for the parks? Look at the attractions come and gone at Disneyland over the years. How many of them would you want to ride over and over again (even if only for nostalgia's sake)? Not withstanding the fact that many of us have never ridden the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train; would you rather have that or Big Thunder Mountain?

So why are so many upset? Is it the sense of nostalgia lost? The fact that they can't share these attractions with friends and loved ones? Is it that Imagineering is missing the mark? Or is it that Imagineering isn't even shooting any longer. Are the suits pulling the trigger?

A lot of the closings, shutterings and changes are officially done in the name of low attendance.

Is Disney pandering to nostalgia instead of imagination and creativity?

What would Walt do? He would be making changes. He would be plussing. He would be finding out what the guests wanted. He would do what was best for the park--which in turn would be best for the guest--which would lead to more attendance and more money flowing into the Mouse's coffers. A cycle. Not sure if it is vicious or not, though.

What would the Disney Geeks do? We would put our money where our mouth is (collectively). We would ride our favorite rides, make time for the niche attractions to keep them going and participate in the online Disney universe. There has been a rumor that the Tomorrowland Transit Authority in the Magic Kingdom might be going away. On our last trip(s), we made sure to ride it several times. When the little ones refer to it as the blue roller coaster and want to ride it again...and again...and again...the Disney Geeks oblige.

We didn't ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority for nostalgia. We rode it because we like it and we enjoy it. Are we open to changes, refurbishments and plusses? Of course. But at its heart, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority needs to remain a great ride that everyone can enjoy (not like the Rocket Rods that were at Disneyland). The point is not to spew negativity at the changes to favorite attractions, but to agree to celebrate what Walt Disney World is--and can be.

Go a comment. We dare you.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Do We Need a New Star Tours Movie?

I don't agree with updating the movie portion of the Star Tours attraction at MGM. I think we need a different experience all together.

There has been a plethora (heh, more than 2?) of Star Tours postings over the past few days.

Most of the comments run the same. New film needed, new ride vehicles, don't change a thing...

My initial thought was yes!

Star Tours was wonderful for its time, but for reasons that are unique to when it arrived on the scene.

Let's step into Lou Mongello's Wayback Machine (he is letting us borrow it for this posting) and head to 1989.

Zap! Ouch...that was actually kind of painful. How does Lou do this all the time? Let's see, we don't want to go back to the opening of the Disney Studios (May 1, 1989) or the opening of Star Tours (December 15, 1989)-- so when to go?

Well, what about May 1994? Yeah--that was this Disney Geek's first trip. ZAP! Dang, Lou really needs to fix this thing. Ok, Sunday, May 15th. Surprise Morning at the Disney-MGM Studios. We were there about 8:30am. We headed right for Star Tours. We rode it four times without stopping.

My first thoughts: amazing, wonderful, great, finally!

But really, I was kind of disappointed. I mean, overall I was thrilled; but there was this strange disconnect between Star Wars and Star Tours. Let me set the scene.

As you first approach, you see a humongous AT-AT Walker looming in front of the building. Wow. On the inside of the queue, you see Mon Calamari, C3-PO, R2-D2 and the Starspeeder 3000. The first part of the area is rather large. The next part of the queue is a little smaller, but you are on ramps and there are droids and droid parts all over the place. Finally, you reach the embarkment area and you have a short wait and watch the safety video. Then you board. The excitement is there--especially for first-timers--but that is where the disconnect starts.

It just doesn't feel like Star Wars to me. First there is the underwhelming sense of scale. You approach a huge AT-AT. You stand in a huge waiting area. Finally, you are seated with 40 other travelers in a small and enclosed StarSpeeder 3000 and the mayhem ensues. To this day, the best part of the ride is the Star Wars fanfare that plays as you exit the vehicle. The absence of branded Star Wars characters in the attraction (except for Art00) and the lack of a visceral Star Wars experience kind of let me down. I understand that Lucas didn't want Darth Vader in the attraction--but it would have been so amazing to have him pursue us and keep us on the edge of our seats (Vader, not Lucas). Why not a fly-by with the Millennium Falcon...or re-theme the cabin to be the hold of the infamous smuggler's ship.

It boils down to a disproportionate sense of scale. Massive AT-AT, large queue area--little bitty ride. Star Wars is massive and overwhelming. The mythology in Star Wars touches everyone. We deserve a ride of equal caliber. Think of it as a funnel. The magic that is Disney comes to life through the way they queue you through the wait with some entertainment. By the time you hit the ride, the fever has risen and BAAM!, the ride is the release that you've waited for. In most cases, the queue is such an integral part of the ride that the ride would suffer without it. In this case, the ride would not be Star Wars without it. Should that be the case? Strip Star Tours of the queue and it is nothing more than a space based motion simulator. Ughh! I rode something like that at the State Fair last year.

Think about the Nemo attraction in EPCOT. Most Disneyphiles love the movie and like the ride; agreeing though, that the ride does not do justice to the intellectual property that it represents. Kids, this is Nemo we are talking about. A great movie nonetheless, but not Star Wars in terms of the global effect it had. Since Star Tours arrived, the movies and the surrounding merchandise frenzy have been reintroduced to a whole new generation of kids. The attraction needs to follow along and reintroduce itself in a manner that is more true to the mythology that ingrain the movies so deeply in our collective.

Look at Pirates and the Haunted Mansion (I love the Mansion). They are wonderful attractions with appropriately large spaces. The Ballroom and Graveyard. The battle at the Caribbean fort and the sacking of the town. The town on fire. With Pirates and the Mansion, there is not a large sense of scale from the outside. You could argue that the Mansion is large from the outside, but its scale is much grander inside. Pirates does lead you through the fort and into the caverns before you hit the wide open battle between the ship and the port. So ultimately, you are rewarded with these large spaces and over the top scenes.

Pirates and the Mansion are both wholly owned Disney properties. There was nothing before them to add to the story or the mythos. Star Wars is different. It had a mythos--a fandom related to movies, books video games, television specials (hah!) before the attraction even opened.

See, Disney constantly treads on thin water with their parks because they have to balance the nostalgia that brings back the oldsters and the innovation that brings in the youngsters. They do an amazing job with this dichotomy 98% of the time. The disconnect with Star Tours is that without the character connection to the movies, there isn't any nostalgia they have to protect. Disney does not have to worry about disrupting fans of Star Tours because I would be hard pressed to find a Star Wars fan that wouldn't love Star Tours to be more advanced as an attraction and more true to the story.

How would the Peter Pan attraction have fared if the ride portion was about Peter's cousin Jimmy Pan? You walk through a wonderfully themed queue all about Pan and Hook, and then you hop on the ride portion. Jimmy sets off on an unrelated adventure to the Peter Pan story and the only similarity is that Jimmy's story takes place in London. Absurd, right? Why would it even be a Pan ride without Pan?

In other words, after the awesome and awe inspiring queue, what makes the Star Tours ride Star Wars?


That is why I don't want a new movie. I want a better attraction. I want the Star Wars attraction that puts me in the experience. Not just watching scenes that take place in space, but an attraction that puts me in the movies.

Ok, Lou--here's the Wayback Machine. It vibrates a little and I do not know where that scratch came from!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Meeting a Disney Legend: Charles Ridgway at Barnes & Noble, Winston-Salem, NC 6/5/2007

The Disney Geeks had a great time listening to Charles Ridgway, Disney Legend, talk about his experience working with Walt Disney and the Disney Company. Mr. Ridgway talked about putting 50 hats on 50 ducks, opening Walt Disney World, meeting and working with Walt Disney and opening Disneyland Paris. He showed us some pretty rare slides and some great shots of him trying to get out of the way of the pictures.

You can read about his career in his new book, Spinning Disney's World. It is one of those rare reads where you feel like you are reminiscing with an old friend. You can tell he truly enjoyed his 30+ years working for the Walt Disney Company.

Thanks to Jeff Pepper for setting up the signing. You can see more pictures from the event at my Flickr account.

Check back over the next several days to read about our questions for Charles and his answers--as well as our thoughts on meeting a Disney Legend.

Waste Not; Want Not

Check out Jessica's blog, If We Can Dream It...

She has some wonderful posts and photo's looking at some of the finer details of Walt Disney World.

One of her recent posts is near and dear to this Disney Geek's heart: The Wonderful World of Trash Cans.

Where else can you get such a feel for your surroundings in something so mundane?

On the left is a shot I took in December of 2006 at the Polynesian Resort.

The guy on the garbage can is known as the Tiki Guy.

Of course, Mahalo means thank you.

If you're looking for more info about the Polynesian Resort, check out Steven Siefert's Tikiman Unofficial Guide to the Polynesian Resort.


Monday, June 4, 2007

Disney Dreaming: Long Lost Park

Honor Hunter over at Blue Sky Disney has posted a great article about Disney's proposed plans for a Disney Sea type park in the Long Beach, CA area.

It was going to be called Port Disney. Honor has posted several great shots of the concept art and the early models.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Disney Author Event: Charles Ridgway

Don't forget that Disney Legend Charles Ridgway will be at the Winston-Salem Barnes & Noble this Tuesday (June 5th) at 7:00pm for a book signing and discussion of Spinning Disney's World.

Jeff Pepper at 2719 Hyperion (A Disney Geeks fave) is hosting the event.

The Disney Geeks will be there. We hope to see many of you as well. We plan on trying to organize a Carolina Disney Group. Let us know if you're interested!

Hit the link to learn more about the book: