Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goodbye 2010...Happy New Year!

I'm pretty sure that this will be the last chance I get to write a Disney Fan Ramblings post in 2010. I thought I'd recap my own Disney experiences this past year, and mention some of my favorite blog moments.

We returned to Florida for our first visit since January of 2009, and spent 5 days at the Disney parks and two days at Universal. I'm still writing about those experiences; I plan on posting something about the Harry Potter ride at Islands of Adventure (with photos) and writing something about my own comparisons between the two resorts/experiences, for what they're worth...

We also had the opportunity to see Mary Poppins (for our second time) at the New Amsterdam Theater in NYC. This was a very nice experience; the theater is beautifully restored, the performers in this New York version are top-notch, and the whole experience is very family friendly.

We went to a few Disney films this year, includingPRINCE OF PERSIA, TON STORY 3, and TRON: LEGACY. We watched a few more on DVD, including TOY STORY 2, which I was sure I had seen, but apparently had not, at least not in its entirety. I got a few Disney books, including THE PIXAR TOUCH, PROJECT FUTURE, and THE HIDDEN MAGIC OF WALT DISNEY WORLD. I enjoyed all of them and learned something from these three in particular.

We went to a couple of non-Disney offerings; of course I've already mentioned our two days at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, but we also visited Six Flags' Great America in Gurnee, Illinois, and Michigan's Adventure near Muskegon and near Lake Michigan's shores. (The post I linked to talks about the park in relation to some superficial discussion of the differences between theme parks and amusement parks.) We also found time to visit the Morton Arboretum, Chicago's Navy Pier, and Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, a wonderful example of what Epcot could be in part. Last, we also visited Central Park in New York City, which I saw one book refer to as one of the first "theme parks."

It was a good year for me and my family; we learned a few things, saw a few new things, and had some fun. I hope 2011 is just as good for us. And for you, my readers, also. Thank you for reading my ramblings, and I hope you continue to visit my blog in the upcoming year!

*****

Monday, December 27, 2010

Disney Film: TRON: LEGACY

I took my sons to see the 3D version of Tron: Legacy on Sunday, and had mixed reactions. On the one hand, I loved the "look" of the film. The 3D world was incredibly imagined and rendered, and it was (to me at least) a very original take on something like this. I enjoyed the effects immensely. I also loved my kids' reactions to the film. They were blown away by the action and the appearance of the Tron universe, even though they had a hard time following every nuance of the story, in part because they had never seen the first Tron.

But only in part because of that. Also, in part, because the story itself had a bunch of "what the heck?" moments, where stuff just didn't make that much sense. My younger son was after me to explain why Clu was bad if he was a sort of copy of Kevin Flynn, and why he did the things he did. I couldn't really explain it to him, or to myself. (I think I said that he wanted to eliminate anything imperfect, but just *what* is imperfect differs from individual to individual. That was the best I could do. I guess it was good enough.)

Part of my problem was that I read too many reviews of the movie beforehand. Reviews like the Chicago Tribune article referenced in a post about a week ago, but also ones like this: Feo Amante's Tron Review

Or this: Blue Sky Disney's Tron Review

(WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE...)

These reviews pointed out issues with the script/story before I ever saw the movie, and I couldn't help thinking about the issues they raised as I watched the movie. For example, E.C. McMullen at Feo Amante (a pretty conservative character even though he does love his horror movies) asks why Sam Flynn is so pissed at the company that obviously affords him the wherewithal to simply walk out of jail after his intrusion on the company (where he controls most of the shares) causes a big problem for their latest OS release. After all, his wealth comes from this company. Why does he hate them so? Because they're big? Because they make money? Because they're duping people into buying their products when there is no improvement in said products? Especially since Sam can take control of the company any time he wants to.

The Blue Sky review points out that the CGI "young" Flynn doesn't look like Bridges did when he was younger, and again, I fixated on this. It does and it doesn't, at the same time. I didn't pay too much attention to the "real" young Bridges when he's talking to Sam (as a 12 year old) near the beginning of the film, but when you think about it, why should an artificial construct like Clu look indistinguishable from its creator? The odd thing for me was that Clu sort of looked like a young Sean Penn as much as he did a young Jeff Bridges.

I also didn't quite get the whole "Iso" thing. How do you wipe out a race that sort of spontaneously came into existence in the first place? Wouldn't they just continue to spontaneously generate themselves? Why don't they, if conditions were right? Or have conditions become "wrong" somehow? And when Sam first gets transmitted to the computer world, he comes out of something that to me looked analogous to Flynn's arcade in the real world. Why does he come out of there, but have to travel great distances to get to the portal to reenter our world? Where is that place, and how did Clu's "police" find him so easily and quickly after he gets to that world?

And Flynn's place: Is it a digital construct, or was Flynn able to bring physical objects like books to the realm? And for that matter, are the two Flynns physically there? They aren't digitized versions of themselves? Granted, this question goes back to the original Tron but it still makes me wonder. And it leads me to my last question: How does Quorra exit the digital world, and what exactly IS she in our world? Or is she in our world at all? When Sam was downloading something into his pocket computing device, was that Quorra? What was in the chip hanging from around his neck? Was the final scene actually Quorra or was it something existing in Sam's imagination?

All this said, I did not agree with McMullen about the look of the film. I thought, as I said before, that it was incredible, while McMullen hated it. For me, this was a film that left far too many questions and hanging plot points but was still a stimulating, exciting experience that was worth seeing in the theater, and worth seeing in 3D. A great film? Nah. A good, fun movie that delivered at least on some of its promise? I vote "Yea"! I'll likely buy it on BluRay, and I wouldn't mind going to see it again in the theater. (And I might try to check out Turistas which apparently starred Olivia Wylde...)

*****

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Designing Disney Parks - Armchair Editions

We all love to be armchair Imagineers, designing in our minds and sometimes on paper and/or the computer additions to the Disney parks. Sometimes, we go further, redesigning entire parks. Or we design entirely "new" Disney parks in new locations, using some of the attractions (maybe tweaked a bit) from existing parks, and maybe adding a few new ones from our own ideas.

One website that Future Guy at Futureprobe noted months ago was this one: Peter F. Schaab - Design and Visualization for All the Places We Gather To Be Entertained and Enlightened. This particular section of the site has a comprehensive redesign plan for EPCOT Center, which he did as a hobby project. It's pretty well done, with illustrations, 3D modeling, and even animations. Some really interesting, original thinking went into this redesign.

Another site is this one: Theme Park Conceptual Site Plans written by Randy Savage. This site mainly uses Disney themes to either reconceptualize existing parks or create new ones. The author does apply his imagination to Universal parks as well.

I recently discovered this site: Imagineering by Grumpyfan. The author imagines improvements to many Disney attractions, and also conceptualizes totally new experiences from time to time. It's a fun, interesting blog with tons of good ideas.

Another site, My Park, My Rides, is a fun site that combines the author's armchair imagineering efforts with commentary on the Disney parks (mostly), reimagining various rides and offering ideas for new things to entertain guests at the parks.

The last site I am making note of is Amateur Imagineer. This blog has "gone dark" so to speak, the last post being in May of 2009. But there were a bunch of entries before that, and some were pretty interesting (and still are). It's worth reading the back posts on this (apparently) now-defunct blog.

I've also seen some pretty incredible artwork on some MiceChat threads where contributors there post their own artwork, obviously mostly related to Disney parks and attractions. I don't have specific posts, however. I just remember being bowled over by the level of skill some of them had.

I only wish I could draw like that. I think that if I had some of the talent that these people do, I'd be in business designing my own concepts for parks and resorts and hotels and restaurants. At this point in my life, I don't have much interest in enriching Disney any more than I already do with my patronage, but I do have interest in designing my own project, as I've noted in several other posts. I'd be applying this imagination and these skills to conceptualizing a park in my part of the country.

I envy them. At the same time, I think they should dream even bigger!

*****

Monday, December 20, 2010

Disney Bookshelf: WALT DISNEY WORLD: THEN NOW AND FOREVER

I enjoy my trips to Walt Disney World (and/or Disneyland) for many things, not the least of which is that I usually find a new book (for me) that I otherwise might not see at my local bookstores. (For me, there is something nice about holding a book in my hands and looking at it, rather than ordering from Amazon, though I've certainly done that also.)

This trip's book ended up being the Bruce Gordon and Jeff Kurtti book called WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT: THEN, NOW AND FOREVER. It's a beautiful hardcover edition, listing for $22.95. From the look of it, I thought it would be more expensive. Following the introduction by Roy E. Disney, titled "A World of Family," there are ten sections, each called "A World of ...", starting with Imagination, and followed by Traditions, Surprises, Adventure, Wonder, Movies, Thrills, Music, Innovations, and finally Dream & Memories.

Each section has several nice photos, many of which were familiar to me, but some of which I had not seen before. There is enough text to elaborate on the high points and explain some of the history that the book illustrates.

I can't say that I learned a great deal that I didn't know from this book, but the images make the book worth owning. It is a very nice addition to my Disney bookshelf.

*****

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chicago Tribune Tron Legacy Review

Michael Phillips, the Chicago Tribune's film reviewer, is not a fan of the new Disney movie, Tron: Legacy. He gives it two stars, and doesn't much like the look of the film. He doesn't seem terribly high on the story either. Says it will be something that fans of the original Tron will likely enjoy this more than viewers unfamiliar with the story.

Here's a link to the review. A Sequel Not Worth Waiting For.

*****

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Animal Kingdom Pictures

We have gone on Kilamanjaro Safaris every time we've visited Animal Kingdom and it is always a fun attraction. We seemed to see more animals than usual this visit, maybe because it wasn't too hot out.

The giraffes were extremely photogenic this time around. We saw lots of them from our room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but we never get tired of them...

The ostriches sometimes don't seem like they have much interest in moving out of the way. This guy (girl?) was just laying around.

Those poachers didn't get these elephants!

And I leave you with a shot of Everest. One of Disney's best, in my opinion.

Other Parks: Islands of Adventure Day 2

On our second day we decided that, since the boys only got on two rides, we'd just return to Islands of Adventure again. This time we headed straight back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As was our habit on this trip, it was late morning by the time we got into the park, and it was crowded! They told us up front that they were bringing people in the other entrance to the land, closer to the Lost Continent.

So we went back there to queue up for entry into Potter World, and we were directed to a line where this day, unlike the previous day, we were given a timed ticket. We happily took our ticket, with the advice to return between 12:20 and 1:20 pm to get in. We went off to find somewhere to eat.

That "somewhere" ended up being in Seuss Landing. We went into Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous, a "counter service" restaurant with fried chicken, pasta, pizza and burgers on the menu.

Now, we were used to Disney counter service restaurants; there are crowds and lines, but you seem to keep moving. At this restaurant, we got in line and stood for a long period of time, waiting to get our food cafeteria-style. This system is SLOW! You finally get to the front, then wait for them to assemble your burger and fries from a pan of burgers, most with cheese and some without. I think two of us ordered cheeseburgers except for my older son who prefers hamburgers without cheese. My wife ordered some kind of chicken sandwich. They take a pre-made basket with a bun and the fixin's, plop a chicken breast or a burger (with or without cheese) on it, then dole out some fries, and hand it to you.

It doesn't sound that hard, but for whatever reason, they are very slow at this. The cash register attendant was basically sitting there doing nothing half the time because after checking out one family, it would be a while before the next came.

The food was fine, and the restaurant was very cute. Very Dr. Seuss. I love the theming and the attention to detail in this area. But based on my two impressions of dining in this park, I'd have to say they have a ways to go before they approach Disney's level of efficiency.

Then it was back to Harry Potter land. It was almost 1 pm by the time we got back there, and there was a huge throng of people waiting to get in. They had barricades set up and were letting people through at two small entrance points. A couple of Universal employees were trying to keep the mass from blocking an aisle on the side where people could exit, with not too much success. One was getting pretty testy with the crowd. When one of the guys in the crowd told her to lighten up or mellow out, she told him something to the effect of "You don't want to mess with me, sir. I'm not in the mood for to take it." (That isn't exactly what she said, but it's close. Not very friendly.)

The problem was that they were creating this bottleneck. And most of the people waiting had tickets that were for later. (We were within our time window and couldn't really get through.) Some didn't have tickets at all. One couple next to me looked at the ticket in my hand as we tried to force our way to the gate, and asked what it was. When I told them that you needed a timed ticket to get into the land, they were disgusted and began working their way out of the line.

We finally pushed our way to the front. Our progress sped up as we got within hearing range of the guy calling out for times of 1 pm or earlier, and we waved our ticket and finally people moved out of the way enough that we could get in. Crazy.

Of course, once you're "in", you're not out of the crowds - you're just in a different mass of humanity. We headed to the queue for the Forbidden Journey ride, which showed 100 minutes, I think. There again, confusion abounded. It seems that there is a line for those with bags that need to be checked into lockers before tey go in, and if you don't have bags, they shunt you to the left and you bypass the locker line. We did the latter, but when we got in line, some cast member told us that we were in the single rider queue, and we'd need to go back and get in the regular queue. So we did, and then we were told that we were now in the queue for the castle tour (no ride), and where we were before was the correct queue. Annoyed, I told that employee about the other guy telling us to go there. Seemed like no one knew what was going on.

The line was almost two hours, but it does keep moving and it is interesting. So it didn't seem as bad. When we got out, my wife had some butterbeers, and we downed them and left the Wizarding World.

The boys proceeded to ride the Pteranodon Flyers and then we headed into Marvel Super Hero Island, where we all rode The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. Had I ridden this before I rode the Forbidden Journey, I would have said that this was the coolest ride I'd ever been on. AS it is, it's just a hair below Forbidden Journey. We rode it twice; the waits were in the 30-45 minute range, and the queue is so cool that it goes by fast. The merging of 3D video effects with some sort of enhanced motion vehicle was incredibly effective.

We rode Doctor Doom's Fearfall after this; I rode it once and the boys went back a couple more times because it was a short (10 minute or so) wait. I'm not that much a fan of these sorts of rides; I didn't like Maliboomer in DCA, and Tower Of Terror is good but not one of my favorites. But my two sons loved it. Then they went on the Storm Force Accelatron, a Teacup-like ride that I had no desire to experience.

For some reason I thought that The Cat In The Hat attraction was a show, and didn't find out till later that it was a ride. I would have liked to do it but, too late now. The waits for it and The High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride were always pretty high.

We left the park and ate at Emeril's for the high point of our Orlando dining experiences. I absolutely love Emeril's restaurants; they are unmatched for taste and service, in my book. This was no exception for us. I wonder if you can get to it without having to pay the all-day parking fees, or if there is a validation or something you can do. I see they do it at the theaters for parking. Because if you can, it will probably be on our eating agenda every time we go to Orlando from here on out. And if we make it to Vegas anytime soon, his restaurants there will be on our itinerary also.

The positives of Day 2 far outweighed the negatives. I'd like to go back and experience the Studios park, but that's not in the near future for us Chicagoans.



Bye, Harry, Ron and Hermione...

*****

Monday, December 13, 2010

Other Parks: Universal's Islands of Adventure - Day 1





We spent Monday and Tuesday at Universal's Islands of Adventure Theme Park. We had never been to these parks before, and our plan was to spend one day at IOA, and the other at Universal Studios. Well, the Studios will have to wait because we ended up hanging out at IOA both days.

The first day was sort of a wash-out. Literally. It poured rain in the afternoon (although the morning weather suggested that there was only a 10% chance of rain that day), and we were totally unprepared. We had brought umbrellas to Florida, but they were at the bottom of our luggage. So we got drenched. It is not very comfortable walking around in soaking wet clothing when there is very little sun, even when the temperature is in the 70's. (I'm not sure what the temperature actually was after the rain - it felt COLD to me in my soaking wet clothing.)

Most of this first day was spent in lines. We got there a bit later than we planned to, since we were still more or less on Chicago time, and of course Florida is an hour ahead of us. We had trouble waking up before 7:30 am their time (which of course would be 6:30 am at home), and once we got ready and drove there, it was probably somewhere between 10:30 am and 11 am their time.

Universal has those enormous parking decks, but they don't have the parking down like Disney does. I think there were four or five booths open, and then all of those cars were funnelling into basically one lane as we got to our parking level at the top of the deck. So that was sort of slow, after experiencing the parking at Disney, where everything just flows.

I was impressed with the system for moving guests from the decks to the CityWalk area. I thought their CityWalk (analogous to Downtown Disney) was very cool. Cool restaurants and stores and a really neat look. We located Emeril's and other restaurants, and headed toward the Islands of Adventure park. Entry was fairly easy; we had our tickets we had purchased at Costco, and everything went beautifully.

Once we got in, we were impressed by the level of theming in their version of "Main Street", which sets the tone beautifully for the rest of the park. I took a couple of photos with the iPhone, as you can see. Then we came to the end of the street, and had to choose right or left. A staffer was there pointing out where the lines for The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter started. Turns out that at this point in the day, one of the two entrances to the land is closed and you have to queue up to get into the land.

Anyway, we walked into Marvel Super Hero Island, thinking that maybe we could do a ride before lunch. The boys and I decided to do Doctor Doom's Fear Fall, which said it had a 20 minute wait. So we entered the queue (it was a well themed queue, sort of dark and interesting), and got to the end of the line. In about 20 minutes, we still had a long ways to go. I decided that we better not chance it because we might miss our lunch reservation at Mythos, so we left the line. I am not sure why we weren't moving; was the ride broken down, or were Express Pass people keeping this line from moving? Whatever, we left. I wasn't impressed with my first experience with a ride at IOA.

We decided to walk back into Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park, where we figured we'd scope out the line for Harry Potter, and cross the bridge to the Lost Continent, where Mythos was located. Line number 2 was at this restaurant. Turns out that what we thought was a "reservation" was actually "priority seating", which means you get to wait a long time until you get seated. Our scheduled time was at 12:30 pm, but we weren't seated till close to 1:30 pm. The place is a really cool looking restaurant, and our service and food were both OK once we got seated. They were a little slow, offering as an excuse that the kitchen had gotten "slammed" by a couple of big parties at the same time.

After lunch we went to get in line for Harry Potter. First we got in a line to get a ticket to stand in the real line. Then we got into that rather long line and waited. And waited. I don't know what time we finally got in, but eventually we did make our way into the land. (We still have not gotten on a single ride!)

We got in line to go on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I'll be doing a post on this by itself later, I think. For now, let's just say that the queue is fantastic and the ride is even better. We didn't mind waiting the 45 minutes it took at that time.

When we got off, my wife had bought a butterbeer. Butterbeer is OUTSTANDING! Can I have more? I miss it, just thinking about it! Very tasty. She got in line to get more butterbeers and I was going to get the kids onto the Flight of the Hippogriff coaster. That's when the skies opened up. My kids got under an umbrella with a line attendant, but I got soaked, and so did my wife. There is no real shelter in Hogsmeade. So then we had to buy ponchos, and at least the ponchos kept us warm the rest of the day. The kids remained relatively dry at least. So then we drank our butterbeers and my wife got in line for Ollivander's Wand Shop, while I put the kids back on Flight of the Hippogriff. They said that they weren't all that impressed with this coaster. It was a very short ride and didn't have much to it, according to them. (I didn't ride it.)

We were silly enough to stand in line for Ollivander's for almost 2 hours. The first 1/3, my wife waited alone while I took the kids on the ride. Then we joined her. (Some might say we should not have done this, that it was sort of cheating, or cutting, but so many people did it that it didn't seem like cutting. You had to wait to get into every store in Potter Land. Crazy. Lines to get into stores!) Anyway, we almost decided to leave after about an hour and 20 minutes, but thought, hey we waited this long, let's see what's in here.

Honestly, it seemed to start moving faster as we got closer. What I think happened was that "Ollivander" started to rush through his show and move people in and out faster. We finally did get in, and it was a fun little show. My kids didn't get picked, but they enjoyed it anyway. And after waiting for almost 2 hours, you're darned right we bought the silly wands for them.

It was late, we were soaked still and the park was slowing down, so we decided to leave. We made our way out of the park through the Lost Continent and into Seuss Landing. My wife checked out the shops and we sat there, taking in the scenery.



What a cool looking land! Just like stepping into the pages of a Dr. Seuss book.

We exited the park, damp and tired, and stopped at Pastamore, having missed our reservation at Latin Quarter. Pastamore could seat us immediately, and so we had some Italian food there. Fun place, good food, nice kids' buffet!

That was Day One. All in all we went on 2 rides and saw the little wand show. The next day was better however. I'll try to get to a post summarizing that day later today or maybe tomorrow.

*****

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Worthy Charity Plea at SamLand

I failed to note this issue earlier, but Sam Gennaway at SamLand's Disney Adventures has been running a charity drive for donations to Women At Work. To date he has gathered $300.00 in donations.

Sam is still collecting donations for the charity, and a new prize is available, donated by Ryan Wilson over at Main Street Gazette. If you make a donation you will be entered into a drawing for the book Since The World Began.

Here is the link to that post: Thank You and a New Contest

Drop on over. Sam has lots of interesting content!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Disney Parks: Epcot

Saved the best for last, didn't I?

That's because we spent Friday, our last day, at Epcot. Lunch (for the kids) at the Electric Umbrella. (I picked at a couple of fries and grapes from their plates.) Dinner at Le Cellier. In between, we did Spaceship Earth (twice!) Mission Space, Test Track (last ride of the day), Soarin', Living With The Land, and The Seas With Nemo.




It's the first time we did the standby line for Mission: Space, and I thought the queue was pretty interesting. The huge rotating cross section of a space station was cool and so were those two hanging space thingies. (One's some sort of a Mars rover, I think, and one is a smaller mockup of the ship you're supposedly piloting to Mars, or so it appears.)

Soarin' looked to me like the film had been fixed up a bit. Perhaps we were in a different "theater" but I remember sort of a "hole" in the video that was sort of annoying, and I didn't see it this time. (And I looked for it.) As usual this attraction had very long waits. So did Test Track. Nothing else was too bad.

The first part of Living With The Land was pretty boring. It needs an update badly. But the second part, the greenhouse part, was as interesting as usual. Looked like a few different plants growing there, but I can't be sure - it's been almost two years since we saw it.

We didn't ride the Gran Fiesta ride in Mexico but we did visit the pavilion while it was raining, and noticed the little tequila bar on the side to our right as we entered.




As usual I'm sorry about the quality of the photos. They look better on my iPhone screen, but I think you get the drift. La Cava De Tequila a nice little nook where you can get a drink and some food. We got some guacamole, and it was tasty! And we got it as a take-out, but then ended up eating it at a stand-up table in the bar. From the look of it, we got considerably more in our takeout container than others got who were ordering from the waiters.

What else? The boys played the Kim Possible game for two pavilions (Germany and China) and we all made it in to see the Captain EO film.

I was surprised by the EO film. Yes, the 3D effects weren't what we're used to today. Yes, the show itself is sort of dated. But the music was okay (if not my usual cup of tea), and it was fun to see Michael Jackson when he still looked human. We all liked it. It isn't the sort of thing I'd need to see more than once, but it was sort of fun.

Our first day (Saturday) was also spent in Epcot, but mostly what we did was eat at Chefs De France and then watch Illuminations. (The only ride we did that day was Spaceship Earth.)

Epcot could use some TLC from the Imagineers without impediment from the pencil pushers, but it's still my favorite park.

*****

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Disney Parks: Animal Kingdom

On the third day of Disney, my true love gave to me...

A visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom! (sorry)

This was without a doubt the best time we've ever had at DAK. That had a lot to do with the fact that we didn't have sweat dripping off of our faces the whole time we were there. The park is beautiful, and when keeping the beads of perspiration from running into your eyes is not the only thing you can think of, it's much easier to appreciate that fact.

There isn't a lot to do at this park when you stop and think about it. But there are a few really high quality attractions here. We rode Dinosaur! twice; it was virtually a walk-on attraction this time. I saw it suggested on Futureprobe that many of the effects have been "turned off" and this ride is not what it used to be. It may be a case of not knowing what we're missing, or it might just be a case of when you only invest 10 minutes in getting on the ride, the ride seems better to you, but whatever it is, we enjoyed the ride this time. More than other times.

Expedition: Everest I rode twice, and my boys did it two more times. They rode standby once (the line was only about 15 minutes late in the day) and since my wife didn't ride at all they used her extra Fastpasses another time. They loved it. My younger son declared it to be his "favorite ride in the world". (We had one "favorite ride in the world" each day of our vacation, except Friday.)

We also did the standby line for Kilamanjaro Safaris, and that seemed to move relatively quickly. Saw a lot of animals out, but just caught a glimpse of the lions. We did see the hippos and the elephants, however. This is always a fun ride.

I wanted to do the Maharajah Jungle Trek but my wife preferred to go see the Festival of the Lion King. So we did the latter, and I have to admit that I enjoyed it. It was a well choreographed and well performed show, and I'd go see it again. The boys also rode the Primeval Whirl after we did Dinosaur. They liked it; they got put in a car with another boy a little older than them, and they always like that.

(Is that Chester and Hester's Dinorama cheap? Well, yeah...but I understand that it's the "story" that goes with the land. I like most Disney fans wish they would have come up with something more elegant or more interesting. But I'm not going to let it stand in the way of the kids' or our enjoyment...)

We had lunch at the Yak and Yeti, and you can see my photos and comments on that lunch in a previous post. We left the park in order to get back to the hotel in time for our reservation, but after stopping to do some shopping (I got a book by Jeff Kurtti and Bruce Gordon!) we were late anyway. Fortunately they were still able to accommodate us and we got a nice dinner after all.

The Animal Kingdom park is usually a shorter day for us but this time it ended up being a full day project. I think it was less crowded than usual due to the fact that it was Thanksgiving Day, but when we got there it sure looked packed.

One more day to go in the World...

*****

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Disney Parks: Hollywood Studios


Our next full day at a Disney park was spent at Disney's Hollywood Studios on Wednesday. I know there are those who don't really care for this park, but I'm not one of them. With Star Tours down for its refurbishment, it's true that there is less to do here than usual, and it's also true that the park is sort of heavy on shows and light on rides anyway. But that said, I like it quite a bit. I like the dining choices and I like the rides it does have.

We ate at the Hollywood Brown Derby for lunch and at the 50's Prime Time Cafe for dinner. You can read my thoughts on those in previous blog posts if you're interested. (Feel free to comment if anything strikes a chord...)

We made it on many rides at the park but we did not go on Toy Story Mania, because all the FastPasses were given out by the time we got there between 10:30 am and 11:00 am. It's a good ride, but not one I'd stand in line for over an hour to ride, even if the queue is supposed to be really cool. (We've never seen it, having only ridden it using FastPasses.) Plus, we have the Wii game, and while it isn't exactly the same, it's not totally different either. (Some levels are even in 3D!)

We also skipped the Backlot Tour, not because we hate it, but because we never seemed to make it that far back in the park. We also didn't go to the Beauty and the Beast show (something we've never done to this point) or to Lights, Motors, Action! on this trip. Fantasmic wasn't running on the day we were there, so we didn't have to make a decision about going to see it.

We did ride Twilight Zone Tower of Terror twice, once with and once without a FastPass. We rode Rock'n'Roller Coaster (with Fastpasses) and my younger son declared it to be his favorite roller coaster ever! We did the Great Movie Ride and we saw the Indiana Jones Stunt Show. All fun rides.

We also made sure to wander back into the Animation Academy and take a drawing class. We drew Dale (the one with the big nose), and had a blast doing so.

While we were on the Tower Of Terror, my wife wandered over to the Writer's Stop, then when I called her that we were out of the ride, she said that she was watching the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, and that we had to see it. So we made our way across the park to the Streets of America, and watched the shows for about a half hour. This display was perhaps the coolest thing, decoration-wise, I've seen in the parks. It's extensive and quite beautiful. All that light movement synched to music...it was really impressive.

When we came out of our dinner, the park was closed, and it's pretty neat to see it without people but still lit up. My wife tried to get some good shots of the boys with the Hat in the background, and I tried to get some pictures with my cell phone of the Hat and the streets without people, like so many of the publicity photos you see at various places. I'd like to report that I got some great pictures, but the truth is, I wasn't impressed with any of my shots. (If you've seen my photography, you probably have to wonder just how bad these were for me to call them bad. I guess they weren't THAT bad - just not anything special.)

It was pretty late by this time, but we didn't have anything scheduled for the following morning, so we made our way back to our room, and called it a day!

******

Monday, December 6, 2010

Disney Parks: Magic Kingdom

I was going to do an entry on the dining we did at Universal, but thought I'd put that off another day or two till I could sort of reconstruct our dining choices there. I remember (mostly) what I had, but I don't remember what my wife had, and I was getting confused on the appetizers and desserts, so I need to consult with her.

So I thought instead I'd recap the parks. Our first full day was spent at the Magic Kingdom. We were able to do quite a few rides, though it seemed as crowded as ever there. In Tomorrowland, we did the Carousel of Progress, Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain, the Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, and the TTA PeopleMover. There was a short wait for the PeopleMover, something I'd never seen before. Lines were long at Buzz and Space Mountain, but we used our Fastpasses on those rides and were able to get on relatively quickly. The Carousel of Progress seemed to have some technical difficulties. They kept interrupting the show to announce that people should remain in their seats, but at least in our theater, no one was getting up. Then we didn't move when we were supposed to, sitting in the same scene for a couple of times. Finally it moved, but right in the middle of a presentation. Just when we were getting irritated and half ready to get up and walk out the exit doors, it started working correctly again, and we got out.

In Frontierland, we did Big Thunder Mountain Railroad via our third and last FastPass. In Adventureland, we did Pirates of the Caribbean. The line was long for that one also. In Liberty Square, we did the Haunted Mansion and, for our first time, we saw the Hall of Presidents show. My kids are at an age where they can appreciate this one now, though I think at our last visit they wouldn't have enjoyed it much. I really liked it. We did no Fantasyland rides this trip. Lines were long at all of them and we didn't feel like waiting.

The Magic Kingdom has plenty to do, and we enjoyed our day there. We capped it by eating, as I mentioned in a previous post, at the California Grill and watching the fireworks from the best table in the house. Weather was perfect all day, and it was a fine finish to a fine day!

******

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The limitation with an all year park in the north - illustrated.

I'm sitting here in my office at work, between patients (I figure I have 10 minutes till my next one) and looking out the window at our employee parking lot. It's snowing.

It's been snowing since sometime in the middle of last night. I shoveled the drive this morning, and I'd guess something around 3 inches had fallen overnight. The drive to work was miserably slow; it's our first real snow of the year, and the plows are out but the snow is heavy and slushy, and the roads were slick. Now I'm used to driving in these conditions; I do it every winter.

But it got me thinking as I drove to work about this as a limiting factor for a park in the north. It's not a day to be outside, unless you're 10 years old and building snowmen. But on the other hand, there were some really beautiful places I drove past, where the snow on the trees really makes for a gorgeous vista.

It's winter here, and we generally don't hang around outside. If you're dressed for it, and you're in a place that's designed for it, a walk on a snowy day can be fun, interesting, even exhilirating. But when you think about a theme park and that sort of day outside, it doesn't fit.

I've always thought that most everything would have to be inside, with enclosed walkways or the entire park in a huge superstructure. Days like this just make that limitation much clearer.

*****

Disney Parks: Dining in the World (continued)

Besides the California Grill and the Yak and Yeti, we also dined at many other fine restaurants at Walt Disney World. I'm going to try to list them and say a few words about the experience, though not in any order.

The Hollywood Brown Derby was our lunch destination on Wednesday. It's a "signature dining" experience, and we'd not had the opportunity to eat there before. It's sort of pricey, but we figured that it would be worth trying. We split a Cobb salad to start, then I had the Sterling Silver Pork Chop, while my wife had the 6 oz Char Grilled Filet of Beef. The service was good though not outstanding, and the ambience was nice. The food was good but after eating the night before at Emeril's, we may have been spoiled. It didn't stand up to that experience, although the prices were right up there.

We also dined at Le Cellier on Friday night. This is a small restaurant with a limited number of tables, and though we called exactly 90 days in advance of our vacation to make the reservations, the only time we were able to get was at 8:20 pm. A little late when you're dragging 2 kids ages 8 and 10 around, but we (I) really wanted to dine there, so we took it. As it has been in the past, it was one of our best meals. I had the Le Cellier Mushroom Filet Mignon, which is served with a wild mushroom risotto. That risotto is excellent. My wife had the same thing. I can't remember what we had as an appetizer; perhaps we didn't get one. I know I ate my kids' soup, and we did get an order of onion rings for the table. But I thought we did order something. Oh well. The food and service were both top notch. I see on the Disney website that this restaurant is considered "signature dining" also, but I thought it used to only take one table service point. No matter to us; we weren't on the dining plan.

The 50's Prime Time Cafe was another dining destination. We ate there on Wednesday night right after watching the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. The greeters couldn't have been nicer. Our service was a little slow, but was she a riot! She was so funny! My kids were laughing so hard that we were worried they'd lose their supper. The food - eh. It's okay. My steak was so-so, and the kids' chow was average at best. My wife had the fried chicken, though, and said it was really good. The server made this experience, however, with her performance. I tried to remember her name but I didn't write it down so of course it's gone from my memory.

Les Chefs De France was the location of our first night's meal, and it was decent. I started with lobster bisque, and my wife had the Soupe a l'oignon gratinee (French onion soup). Both were excellent. I followed it with the Trio de fruits de mer au bouillon de homard (scallops, mahi mahi and shrimp), while my did the Filet de boeuf grille (grilled tenderloin of beef). Mine was quite good. She said hers wasn't as good as she remembered. Our service was excellent. It's pricey but worth it for the atmosphere and the service as well as the good food.

On Thanksgiving, we dined at Sanaa, the restaurant at our hotel. This was terrific. We started with the bread service, which consisted of Naan, Onion Kulcha, and Paneer Paratha. We selected the Mango Chutney, the Garlic Pickle and the roasted red bell pepper accompaniments. They were all excellent. For dinner, we both went with the "Slow-cooked in Gravy, Simple and Well-seasoned" dishes. I selected the Chicken with red curry sauce and beef short ribs. My wife had the same chicken but did the Shrimp with Green Curry Sauce. She loved hers. I really enjoyed mine, too. (The waiter told us that we were one of the only tables to order off their regular menu, but we figured we're at this restaurant NOW, and we want to try what they have to offer, not an American Thanksgiving meal. We were getting that on our return home anyway.) For dessert we did the sampler, with Chocolate cake, passiou fruit kulfi, and chai cream. I really loved the chai cream. I'd highly recommend this restaurant.

I'll post separately, later, about the dining experiences at CityWalk and Universal. It won't be as long, thank God.

*****

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Disney Parks: Dining in the World

We had many fine dining experiences during our WDW visit last week. Among them were stops at California Grill, Chefs De France, Le Cellier, the Brown Derby, the 50's Prime Time Cafe, Sanaa, and the Yak and Yeti. We also ate at Pastamore and at Emeril's at the CityWalk, but I didn't take pictures of those meals.




My dinner was the Grilled Pork Tenderloin, and my wife did the Oak-fired Filet of Beef, and both were done to perfection. The presentation was beautiful, and the tastes were incredible. I know I wasn't feeling all that well, and it was late, but this restaurant, while pricy, has been the highlight of our Disney dining experiences the last two times we've gone to the World.



Dessert was also excellent. If I'm remembering correctly, this was the California Bread Pudding, and we shared it. It was delicious and we cleaned our plate! (Well, I did, anyway...my wife has willpower.)

We started with one of the flatbreads (I believe it was the Spring Vegetable flatbread) and the Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli. Both were excellent. (The kids helped with the flatbread.)

We were also lucky enough to get what I think was about the best table in the house - the one with a perfect view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks, which we were able to enjoy without leaving our table. A very nice finish to our Sunday in Disney.





Thursday we went to the Yak and Yeti for lunch. This was a really good day. The weather was perfect, the crowds were manageable, and the park was beautiful. And the Yak and Yeti's food was excellent. We started with Pork Pot Stickers (not pictured) and they were excellent, though about what you get from most Asian (and some non-Asian) restaurants. I followed it up with the Shaoxing Steak and Shrimp, and my wife had the Stir-Fried Beef and Broccoli. Both of these dishes were presented nicely, and were quite tasty. We did order the Fried Wontons for dessert, but I don't have a picture of it.

This is one of my wife's favorite restaurants in any park, and I have to agree with her that it's a culinary treat.

I'm going to stop here but I'll be back with another post about dining, though sadly it won't have pictures (because these were the only ones I took). Or maybe not so sadly. Bon Appetit!

*****

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Disney Parks: Holiday Decorations

The parks were festive, decked out in Christmas splendor. It's our first trip to WDW at the Christmas holiday season, so I didn't know what to expect. I wasn't overwhelmed, but I wasn't disappointed. I guess that's another way of saying that most of it was about what I expected, but a few things stood out as "really something special"!




I apologize for the quality of my photos; I took them with my iPhone, and while it's not bad, it's not great, either. Plus, the hand behind it isn't so great. But I think they show that the decorations were not excessive at the Magic Kingdom. Nice, but not overdone, or spectacular, really. Same with the trees. All the parks had them, and they're nice, but they're what I'd expect - not much more.



Now here is something that really IS spectacular. The lighting of Cinderella's Castle is just breathtaking. It rotates through 4 or 5 background colors, and those white icicle-type lighting just make you go, "Wow!" My picture doesn't really do it justice; it is much more beautiful in person.



And something else that is spectacular, and exceeded all my expectations, was the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Again, the pictures I took don't really do it justice; it's much more spectacular in person. The colors and the movement of the lights just mesmerized me and my family for quite a while. I was insisting to my wife that we make sure we see this, because I suspected it would be cool, but it was so much cooler than I thought it would be. Everyone should see this spectacle, it's that impressive, in my opinion. (Maybe I'm easily impressed, but...)

The decorations were nice all over, but those two things really stood out, head and shoulders above anything else I saw at the theme parks at Disney or Universal last week.

*****

Monday, November 29, 2010

Back from the World...

We just returned from a week-long vacation to Walt Disney World, and it's back to reality today. But the good news (I think) is that I may have some material for a few blog entries coming up over the next week or two. Today's entry, however, is just a quick recap of the trip, hitting the high points, so to speak.

We were in Florida for seven days, Saturday to Saturday. We spent five of those days at Disney parks, and two at Universal's Islands of Adventure. We had five days of perfect weather, and two days when we had to deal with a bit of mid-day rain and slightly cooler conditions. Very nice weather overall.

We had planned on spending one day at Islands of Adventure, and one day at Universal Studios park, but it didn't work out that way. Our first day was spent waiting in lines and getting drenched. It wasn't supposed to rain that day (Monday); I believe they were giving it a 10% chance. But rain it did, and we were caught unprepared.

Our first line was the line to get into Mythos. We had booked what we thought was a reservation for lunch, but we learned that they really don't take "reservations" per se, just priority seating. So our 12:30 time was just a what? An estimate? We did finally get seated right around 1:30 for lunch, blowing over an hour just doing nothing (because there isn't much to do in the Lost Continent, and the girl at the counter said that if we missed it when we were called, we could just tell her when we got back and we'd be moved back to the top of the list) and then another hour eating. Then there was a line to get a ticket to stand in line to wait to get into Hogsmead. Then a wait in that line, then finally a nice long wait in the line to get on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Then a wait to get into Ollivander's, Makers of Fine Wands. I'd guess this one was close to two hours. (I know. You're saying, "Sucker!" That's what I felt like.) You see a quick show where one kid (not either of mine) was chosen to have a wand selected by the proprietor and to work some spells on various objects in the store. Then you buy a wand, whether you intended to or not, because you stood in line for TWO HOURS!!!

I said high points, didn't I? The point was that we didn't get much done that first day because of the rain, which kept us huddled under an umbrella used by the line attendant for the Flight of the Hippogriff ride, and because of all the lines. But the butterbeer made it all worth it!

So we spent our second day at the same park, and hit more rides, including the Forbidden Journey ride again.

The rest of the week was spent on Disney property, one day for each park, with two (the short Saturday of our arrival and the Friday right before we left) at Epcot. We had some really good meals at Chefs De France, Le Cellier, the California Grill, the Brown Derby, the Yak and Yeti, Sanaa, and the 50's Prime Time Cafe. We stayed at Kidani Village at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, but didn't really take the time to enjoy the resort itself - something we will be certain to rectify next time. I'm thinking that perhaps we'll skip the Disney parks altogether.

We hit most of the high points on rides, too. We did NO water rides, just because it felt a little cool to walk around wet all day. But we did most everything else at the parks. Saw a few things we'd not seen before, including the Hall of Presidents and the Festival of the Lion King show. The boys tried a couple of Kim Possible missions in the World Showcase and that was actually pretty fun for them!

So I think I have some more detailed posts coming up over the course of the next few weeks, and even some photos! It's good to be back! I needed to get back to work to get some rest time in!

*****

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Your blogging will resume after Thanksgiving...

Next week will be a busy week, and I likely won't have time to make any entries in this (blog or either of my other blogs.

So if you've been looking in, please don't take this "week to ten day" period of inactivity as an indication that this blog is going dark. Check back with me after Thanksgiving. I may have some things of interest to write about then. (Or not...)

To everyone who ever looks at this blog: Happy Thanksgiving!!!

*****

Monday, November 15, 2010

Disney and Dentistry - Walt's Words

Oddly enough, after posting my last entry, I went to a seminar on comprehensive dentistry, and I opened the binder that was provided with all the handouts and notes from the class. On page 3 of the binder, the instructor gives us this quote:

It seems to me shallow and arrogant for any man in these times to claim he is completely self-made, that he owes all his success to his own unaided efforts. Many hands and hearts and minds generally contribute to anyone's notable achievements.

Walt Disney


The course was using these words to illuminate his views on the value of our dental team, including hygienists, assistants, and clerical staff. When you think about it in terms of Walt himself, he was obviously talking about all the talented individuals who did a lot of the heavy lifting in the process of making Walt Disney Studios the huge success that it became.

What's it have to do with Disney today? Probably very little. Probably has more in common with Pixar, where the team effort of all those guys produced the end result we see today every time we watch a Pixar animated release in the theaters. And maybe that's part of the problem at Disney today (assuming there IS a problem at all!), that it's way too huge to innovate anymore, whether it be in animation or in the theme park industry.

When you think of it, the newest part of Disney is probably the Disney Vacation Club, and that IS in fact a different way of packaging the concept of time shares. And their hotels and resorts are very much destinations in and of themselves. A very successful, very profitable business for the Disney Company. Maybe that spirit of innovation, of lots of talented hands, hearts and minds coming together to make something really cool, is alive and well in this branch of their business. A lot of people scoff at DVC, or resent it, but if you've ever stayed at one of their resorts, you'd probably agree that they're great places. With resorts in Hilton Head, Vero Beach and soon, Hawaii, they aren't limited to the theme parks either.

But that's probably a blog entry on its own. I just found it rather coincidental that I came across more references to Disney as it related to dentistry.

*****

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Disney and Dentistry

Some people who read this blog might know that in real life I am a dentist. And if it wasn't for dentistry, I may not have come upon my love of Disney, even as late in life as I did, because the reason we decided to first visit WDW with our kids back in 2004 (I think) was because the American Dental Association was having their annual meeting in Orlando that year. It also happened to be a really bad hurricane year, and we got to Orlando about an hour before they closed the airport. Hurricane Jeanne hit the next day and we spent our entire Sunday, our first day at Disney, cowering in our room at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort, munching on cereal and snack foods, waiting for the winds to pass. (It took them all day to do so because after Jeanne passed to the south of Orlando, she took a right turn and headed north. So we got the high winds and storms twice, sort of, with very little let-up in the middle.)

It so happens that the ADA held their annual meeting in Orlando again this year. We didn't go, because it's in the middle of October and our kids are in school. And school's important to us; we don't feel comfortable taking them out for Disney vacations anymore. But it didn't stop the ADA from having their meeting.

So what's the connection to Disney, you might ask? Well, apparently a hugely popular course titled "Disney's Approach to Quality Service" was on the course list, led by facilitator Tom Thomson of the Disney Institute. This course discussed Disney business philosophies and relating them to dentistry, mostly about anticipating and reacting "to patients' needs, wants and emotions." He drew parallels between the emotions people feel before they come in for their dental visit, perhaps their worries, and the emotions and worries that people have before signing up for a Disney vacation. How we deal with these issues might be different, but the need to deal with them is the same.

I found it interesting that even the ADA recognizes that Disney has something good to add to their program!

*****

Film - Disney Trailers

When we went to see MEGAMIND, I noted two trailers for the anticipated upcoming Disney releases, TRON: LEGACY and TANGLED.

Both looked like fun films. I haven't been following the hype for TRON: LEGACY, and just a little of the pre-release information on TANGLED, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that Jeff Bridges is returning in the sequel to TRON. Aside from that, the look of the new film is incredible, if the trailer is any indication. (Or maybe I'm easily impressed.)

TANGLED "looks" like a Pixar film, with the crisp computer animation and detailed backgrounds. But I was unable to get a sense of how the story will play out. From the trailer, it looks like it will have it's share of funny bits. If past history is a guide, I think it will probably be a pretty good film.

TRON: LEGACY opens on December 17th.

TANGLED opens on November 24th.

*******

Monday, November 8, 2010

Film Review: MEGAMIND

I took the boys to watch the only animated film out there right now (and they weren't interested in seeing Secretariat), MEGAMIND from Dreamworks.

For those who might not know, the story of this film is that two "babies" are sent to Earth for some reason, sort of a variation on the "Superman" theme where Clark Kent's real parents put him in some sort of spaceship and send him away from their dying planet. The two babies become Metro Man, protector of Metro City, and Megamind, who ended up as a child in a "prison" for the criminally gifted. Voiced respectively by Brad Pitt and Will Ferrell, these two grow up more or less together, attending a school together where Metro Man is always the beloved one and Megamind, with his giant blue noggin, is the outcast.

From there, the story is predictable, riffing on superhero/supervillain stories, with a love story that is just about what you're probably thinking it is. Tina Fey voices lovely news reporter Roxanne Ritchi, who Megamind is constantly kidnaping. That's played as the cliche it is in many of these sorts of stories, and because it's played that way, it actually works. Metro Man is the too-good-to-be-real superhero who is always foiling Megamind's plots, and if I wasn't seeing things, Ben Stiller was credited as the voice of the boring clerk Bernard, whose identity Megamind usurps in order to try to relate to Roxanne.

This movie didn't hold a candle to Dreamworks' last offering, How To Train Your Dragon, as far as the story goes. The look of the movie, especially the city vistas, is really cool. My kids loved the way the skyscrapers looked in Metro City, and I thought it was a beautifully animated movie. The 3D worked really well on this one, and I'm glad we saw it in that version.

And I don't want to suggest that it isn't a fun movie, because it is. Dreamworks' offerings are always a cut above all of the competition not named Disney or Pixar up until now, and this was no exception. It is one I will probably buy on DVD when it comes out.

*****

Monday, November 1, 2010

What is it about Disney?

I was thinking about this over the weekend as we prepare for our upcoming WDW vacation, wondering what it is about Disney that attracts me?

If you've read any of my old posts, you probably know that I've come sort of late to Disney in my life. Not to a love of Disney movies; I've always loved them from the time I was a little kid and 101 Dalmations captured my fancy, along with many others. But the parks - to them I am a late-comer. I went in high school with my HS band, when only the Magic Kingdom was built, and I just don't remember much of it. I mean, I remember having a blast there, riding Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion and Pirates, and the Skyway, but for some reason it didn't register that Disney was doing something more than other, more local "theme" parks were doing. Right around that time, Marriot's Great America (now a Six Flags park) opened, and in hindsight it is obvious that they were trying to connect to the Disney theming, but on a less intricate, less detailed level. With "lands" like Hometown Square, County Fair, Yukon Territory, Yankee Harbor, and a few other America-themed areas, they were sort of trying to tie into that feeling that you get when you walk down Main Street, USA at a Disney MK type park.

But I'm getting off track here. Since we chose to combine a Disney vacation with a professional meeting held in Orlando in 2004, we've been to WDW 4 times (including that first one) and Disneyland twice. And it was really after the second trip that I fell in love with Disney as a destination...not after the first trip. So what was it?

Well, part of it was that my kids were older at that second trip. Not a lot older, but when you're in preschool, two years is a lot. They definitely enjoyed the trip more the second time. My little one wasn't as afraid of different rides and shows. I mean, Hopper's appearance in It's Tough To Be A Bug was still a little frightening, and there were a few loud noises on Pirates that startled him, but generally he did well on most everything. And my older boy was game for some coasters, like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and he was ready for Splash Mountain.

But the other thing that was different was that we went to Epcot for the first time. We didn't make dining reservations; we just took what we could get, and what we were able to get was dinner at the restaurant in Italy and lunch at the Morocco pavilion. But we were bowled over by the dining choices and by the architecture of those pavilions. And we were knocked out by Soarin'! We loved Epcot!

And when I left there that time, I remember thinking, as I would drive to work, that someone, some entertainment company, could do something like Epcot anywhere. You could go to visit Morocco, or France or Italy, any time of the year! Good weather was only part of the equation when most of the attractions were inside show buildings. And good design should make someone able to draw up a place that would have elements that would work well in winter, as well as elements for summer. It started me on a thought experiment that I'm still messing with - designing a "resort" and "theme park" complex somewhere around where I live.

So that's part of it - the idea that I'm sort of studying Disney to further this thought experiment of mine. But there's more to it than that, certainly. Because there is a sort of "magic" that comes with walking through the gates of the Magic Kingdom, or Disneyland, or Epcot, or any Disney park. There's a magic in staying in their hotels, getting excellent customer service, having good dining experiences regularly, with boarding a bus or a monorail and knowing that your destination is somewhere completely different than anywhere else on earth, at least in *my* experience.

What is it about Disney for you? Is it the connection to the well loved films and TV programs? Is it your kids' reactions to the castle and the characters, to the iconic attractions? Is it the look and feel of the place? Is it the hotels? The restaurants? Is there something about Disney that doesn't have to do with "content" per se?

I'd love to hear what other people think about this.

*****

Friday, October 29, 2010

My Disney Bookshelf - Listmania List from Amazon

Here is a list of titles on my Disney bookshelf, as noted on Amazon's Listmania feature. It may not be complete, but it has most of them, I think.

  1. How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life by Pat Williams

  2. Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig

  3. Disney War by James B. Stewart

  4. The Disney Way, Revised Edition: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company by Bill Capodagli

  5. Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real by the Imagineers

  6. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World by Alex Wright

  7. The Imagineering Field Guide to Epcot at Walt Disney World by Alex Wright

  8. The Imagineering Field Guide to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World by Alex Wright

  9. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

  10. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney by J. Michael Barrier

  11. Building a Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire by Bob Thomas

  12. Designing Disney by John Hench and Peggy Van Pelt

  13. Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park by Jeff Kurtti

  14. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland by Alex Wright and the Imagineers

  15. The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World: Over 600 Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom by Susan Veness

  16. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios by Alex Wright

  17. The Disney Mountains: Imagineering At Its Peak by Jason Surrell

  18. The Pixar Touch by David A. Price

  19. Project Future by Chad Denver Emerson



I started collecting Disney titles about 4 years ago, so my list isn't as extensive as it could be, perhaps. But there are a lot of worthwhile titles on there. (I didn't include fictional stuff like The Kingdom Keepers series, or Cory Doctorow's Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom.) It's a work in progress...

*****

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Parks - "Hard-Ticketed" Events

We're going to be at Disney next month, and though it's not running at all on any of the nights we're in town, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is a so-called "hard ticket" event that will be available before and after our vist.

I've always wondered how these events are. I've heard good and less-than-great things about Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party...more good than bad, actually. I've heard it's a treat to see the park lit up in spectacular fashion, to get the treats from cast members in costume, to see some neat mini-shows and such going on, and of course, to be able to get on rides quickly and without lines. What I've heard bad about it is that it's not great for families with smaller kids, since it doesn't really "start" till 7 pm, and if your kids are going to be crashing by 9, you're not getting much for your money. We've been there two or three times when MNSSHP was running, and never saw fit to buy the tickets for it.

I've heard that MVMCP is not as good. I've heard that the park looks good, and the fireworks are first rate, but it isn't as much fun for the kids as the Halloween events. Still, with my kids getting a little older now, I was thinking of doing it, as much for the access to rides as for seeing the park decorated and lit specially.

I do think, however, that these sorts of ticketed special events are good for the business. With three parks that DON'T require a special ticket to go to, closing one park early to all but the ticket holders has to be profitable. And having a special event that makes the guest feel really plugged in, really special, can be a lot of fun, I'd guess. I really think that, if I were Disney, I would be looking at doing more of them throughout the year.

I've mentioned it before, but I think DHS would be a natural place to have one, some sort of "movie premiere" night where you could really feel that you were going to a red carpet Hollywood event. I'm sure you could think of a really cool thing to do at Animal Kingdom, too...the old Beastly Kingdom thing would be a cool overlay to part of the park for a special hard ticketed event a few times a year.

Anyone have any thoughts on this? Do you like "hard ticketed" events? Do you hate the concept? Would it just be greedy of Disney to do more of this? Or would it enhance the experiences of those guests purchasing the tickets?

*****

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Obituary - Alexander Anderson Jr.

Saw this in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday:

Animator Alexander Anderson Jr. died on October 22 at age 90. Mr. Anderson is credited with creating the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon characters, as well as Crusader Rabbit and Dudley Do-Right. He was the nephew of Paul Terry of Terrytoons, the studio that created Mighty Mouse.

The article mentions that he started with Terrytoons in 1938, then went into the US Navy (as a spy!) and returned to the studio in 1946. He suggested creating cartoons for TV but the studio wasn't interested as they were producing cartoons for the movie studios at that time. So Mr. Anderson went out on his own (with the apparent permission of his uncle) and began producing cartoons with his friend Jay Ward.

In the 1990's Anderson discovered that Ward was the sole holder of the copyrights for Bullwinkle, Rocky and Dudley Do-Right, and he filed suit. In 1996, a settlement was reached which recognized Anderson as the creator of the characters.

*****

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Changes over there at the left...

I rearranged my "Blog List" and my "Internet Favorites" on the left side of the page to reflect activity of some blogs that I like to check in with on an almost-daily basis.

I've added Progress City USA and Imagineering Disney to "My Blog List", where I (and you) can see when the most frequent post was for both of these fairly frequently updated blogs was made. Both of them are very interesting blogs with tons of good information.

I've moved Epcot Central and Reimagineering to the "Favorite Internet Spots" because it seems they have gone dark. If they start updating again, I will probaby move them back to the Blog List because they were two of my favorite destinations.

*****

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Review: THE LOST HERO by Rick Riordan

Finished up my read of this book yesterday, and I was engrossed by the story almost immediately. It is a continuation of the story told in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and I was happy to revisit this universe, where Greek gods still exist and still wreak havoc in our world.

Interestingly, this book takes a small twist, recognizing the differences between the Greek and Roman gods. At first glance they would seem to be the exact same gods, just called by different names, but Riordan recognizes that the Roman gods were more warlike, more disciplined. He builds the basis for this second series in these differences, and it promises to be a good one, I think.

The story starts with the "extraction" of three young demigods from their school in Nevada. Piper and Leo are more or less what they appear, but who is this Jason kid? They all seem to remember him, all but Coach Hedge, who is wondering just where he came from. The students are on a field trip when they are attacked by vengeful storm spirits, or venti. And Jason shows that he's no ordinary demigod.

But that's about as far as he can go because he doesn't have any memories - and doesn't know anything about himself or his past. Where did he come from? Who are his parents?

We find out a lot about Jason, Piper and Leo as the story progresses, and we also meet some characters from the first series, including Chiron, Argus, and Annabeth (among some other demigods at Camp Halfblood). But conspicuously missing is Percy Jackson himself - he seems to have disappeared and no one knows where he went.

Jason and his two friends get sent out on a mission to stop another massive war between the gods and their foes, somewhat different enemies than last time. Along the way they meet Medea, King Midas, Boreas (god of the north winds) and Aeolus (god of the winds), who provide them with plenty of peril.

It's a fast paced, well written young adult novel, that grabs the reader and pulls him/her in to the story quickly. For a long book, it doesn't take long to read (as is the case with many young adult novels). I for one am really looking forward to more books in this series, as well as Riordan's Kane Chronicles series which deals with the Egyptian gods.

*****

Monday, October 18, 2010

THE LOST HERO and TOY STORY 2

We popped Toy Story 2 into the DVD player on Saturday night and I watched it with my two sons. I was sort of surprised; it was like watching a new movie for me. I was certain I had seen it before but I guess I must have stopped watching at some point, for some reason. The ending was unfamiliar. I mean, I sorta knew what was going to happen but I don't remember ever seeing any of it.

I know, from reading THE PIXAR TOUCH and from reading comments about the movies, that a lot of people thought that the second of these movies was better than the first. If I'm not mistaken, one reviewer, back when it came out, stated that this was the "rare sequel that surpasses the first film," or something to that effect. I can't say I agree with that. I'd say it was my least favorite of the three. But it was still an excellent film, and ranks right up there with all the other Pixar movies.

*****

A while back I wrote a couple of posts about "Should have been Disney" or something like that. We picked up The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan last week; it's a continuation of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It's published by Disney Hyperion Books, like the rest of the series were. And it's a really interesting, well done continuation to this point. (I'm about 200 pages into it now.) I suppose I could call this part of the post "Probably can't be Disney" since I'm sure that whichever studio it was that made the first Percy Jackson movie has the rights to sequels and characters. But I'll repeat: This series would have made an excellent addition to Disney's movies and to the parks, too!

*****

That's all for this Monday.

*****

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review - THE LONG TAIL by Chris Anderson

Off topic, perhaps, but still interesting to me...

Right before I read THE PIXAR TOUCH, I read this book by the editor of WIRED magazine, Chris Anderson. It's title is THE LONG TAIL: WHY THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS IS SELLING LESS OF MORE, and it deals a lot with online retailers such as eBay, Amazon, Lulu, iTunes and Rhapsody, as well as with the blogging industry such as it is. Anderson examines how it becomes profitable to offer consumers more choice, beyond the culture of "hits", as it were - hit TV shows, hit motion pictures, hit songs, and hit books.

I found it interesting that this "fringe", consisting of mostly "niche" products and works, is providing a significant portion of the sales and profits from most of these online businesses. These are the products that the big box retailers, the big record labels, the big publishing houses, do not care to carry, simply because it makes no sense for them to do so. There's limited capacity. Limited shelf space. Limited screens to show films on. Understandably those sellers and publishers and labels and such want to spend their time, resources and space on the big ticket, big money making items. The hits.

The hits are the "short head" of the market, the part where relatively few products account for most of the sales. The "long tail", by contrast, is the part of the market extending out past the first 100, the first 500, the first 1000 maybe, works. So while a conventional retailer must figure in the costs of having an item physically present, a "long tail" retailer can stock larger and larger numbers of works. Songs, to Rhapsody and iTunes, take up just a small part of the digital storage available. Amazon can store ten times, maybe more than that, the number of books that your friendly Borders brick-and-mortar store can stock. eBay does it even more differently - they don't have anything to do with the merchandise. The author also mentions Alibris, a network of used bookstores that, like eBay, simply aggregates the information about merchandise located all over the United States.

One thing that struck me (and other Amazon reviewers too) is that most of the examples Anderson gives are from entertainment product fields. eBay is not stricty that, but other than media, I don't know how this would work. A "long tail" is possible where the means of production have become cheap, where almost anyone can record their music, write and publish their book, even make a film. But perishable products certainly do not fit the model as well, nor do products that take specialized manufacturing. There aren't a million people out there making, oh, say, plastic buckets. Or car parts. Etc etc.

I consider this post to be off topic, but I think there are some tie-ins with Disney and Pixar. Disney may well have been sort of a part of a "long tail" back in the early 1900's when they were making animated films and struggling financially. Back then there was no internet of course, but movie houses were different - they were almost like social gathering places. Not like multiplexes today. There were places to put Disney products in almost every small town in America. Of course, today, Disney is part of that "short head", wanting copyright protection extended on everything they do to protect their investments. (As they should.) But back then, they were making films that, really, they didn't know if there was a market for them.

And Pixar, well, there is a classic example of the production technolgy being used for something that no one exactly knew what would come of it. The idea of making a feature animated film with only the computer was far-fetched back then. The tools of production found their way to the dreamers. Much like independent filmmakers today can make films on a shoestring. (I heard about a new film about a sports talk show guy, something like Nice Guy Billy or something like that, made on a budget of 25K, and it will not be released in theaters - it is going right to NetFlix, iTunes, On Demand platforms, and of course DVD. The director talked about how he had a camera and film editing tools, and was able to make the picture so inexpensively. Classic long tail - a film that otherwise would be seen by virtually no one outside of a major city with an art film theater will now be ONLY available through these long-tail types of outlets.)

I keep thinking about how the long tail relates to my own entrepreneurial ambitions, but I'm coming up dry so far. I'll keep thinking on it though. In the meantime, this book is a worthwhile addition to my (and maybe to your) library. A quick read and full of interesting theories and information.

*****

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pixar vs. Disney

I've been thinking a lot about what I learned as I read THE PIXAR TOUCH, and was amused to consider the origins of both businesses. Disney's origins are in a far flung past, when things were different. Pixar's origins are more rooted in a near-past from which things have not changed all that much up until today.

Walt started the Disney Brothers Studios on a shoestring - he had virtually no money, except for a few hundred dollars from his uncle and whatever he and his brother could plow into the business. He had arrived in Los Angeles with virtually no money, but he did have a mostly finished print of his Alice film. Using this print, he was able to get a contract to deliver short films to a New York distributor and, as part of the contract, get some advance money to allow him to hire a few people and finish the one he had and film and produce more of them.

Walt struggled to keep things afloat in those early days, but it was the newness of the medium that really allowed him to begin. There was not a lot of competition in what he was producing at the time. Yes, there were places doing some animation, but not too many of them were trying to combine story and animation as Walt was doing. He sold his productions as he made them, and was paid for them as he sold them. He took chances, gambled on animation being capable of far more than anyone thought it could ever be. Later he gambled that an amusement park could be far more than anyone thought it could ever be, too. Both gambles paid off big time - SNOW WHITE and Disneyland resulted in huge successes for his company.

By contrast, Pixar really began in college laboratories - first at the University of Utah, where computer graphics were being developed, then at NYIT, where the administration (in the person of wealthy entrepreneur Alexander Shure) shared Pixar's founders' filmmaking aspirations.

While it seems that both companies started with something "new" (animation, more or less, with Disney and 3D computer graphics/animation with Pixar), it also seems that the computer 3D graphics takes a LOT more money to get started. Hence the private origins of Disney, while Pixar had to exist as a division of something first. The hardware needed for the research that eventually made Pixar's products possible was cost-prohibitive except to a larger organization. So Pixar by necessity had to start under the auspices of a institute of higher learning, then continue its existence as part of Industrial Light and Magic. It finally earned its independence when Steve Jobs bought them for around 5 million dollars. And even that was not true independence - because Catmull, Lasseter, et al, still had to pretend that their hearts were in the hardware side of things.

So what is analogous today, or in the near future? I don't really know - I'm not an avid reader of those tech magazines that might be writing about the next big thing - but I wonder if it will be something that we can all do on our laptops, or is it going to require even greater technology than 3D computer graphics did at their inception? Walt needed a camera, but he could get cameras at pawn shops and in equipment liquidations by photo houses and such, and while it may have been a struggle, he could swing it. No way could Pixar have afforded the computers that the first digital projects were done on - the Cray computer system that Pixar "borrowed" time on to make Lasseter's The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. costed 10 million dollars at the time.

Most of the computers we take for granted today have greater computing power than the Pixar Imaging Computer that was so powerful (and expensive!) in its day. While I'm sure there is a "next step" to be taken, and probably to be taken by someone outside of the major studios, I'm not at all sure when it will happen or what direction it will take.

Thoughts?

*****

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book - THE PIXAR TOUCH by David A. Price

THE PIXAR TOUCH: THE MAKING OF A COMPANY, by David A. Price, was a fascinating look at the history of Pixar, who we all know is making animated feature films for the Walt Disney Company these days after Robert Iger and Steve Jobs were able to come to an agreement that made Jobs the largest Disney shareholder by a wide margin, made Ed Catmull the president of both Disney and Pixar Animation, and made John Lasseter the CEO of both organizations, as well as principle creative advisor to Walt Disney Imagineering.

But that merger/acquisition is the culmination of a much longer story, and really is nowhere near as interesting as Pixar's history as a company. For example, I had read that Pixar started their existence as a hardware company, but I really didn't know what that meant. The more accurate way of portraying things, according to Price, is that Pixar was always a company, from the moment Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith joined together in New York at the New York Institute of Technology with Alexander Shure as their wealthy patron, that was primarily focused on using 3D computer animation to make a feature film. It was Catmull's interest and it was Shure's interest as well.

The company ended up at Lucasfilm when that organization hired Catmull to head its new computer division. The only trouble with LucasFilm was that George Lucas did not see computers or 3D computer graphics as the future of filmmaking; he saw computers as a tool that could make film production easier, faster, and of higher quality.

The technologies that Lucas was looking for - digital film compositing, digital audio mixing and editing, and digital film editing - existed, for the most part, only in Lucas's own fertile imagination. Catmull would just have to dive in and cope.


Their breakthrough came in 1981 when they were contracted to make a short sequence for the STAR TREK film, THE WRATH OF KHAN. The scene where Kirk, Spock and McCoy watch a simulation of the so-called "Genesis Device" - an animation of a world being consumed by the device and finally coming to life anew as the device worked its magic - that was the one of the first real scenes in a movie that was computer animated entirely, and it was done by Industrial Light and Magic - or more specifically, by the computer division of ILM. The first Pixar film, really.

In late 1983 the group had an opportunity to hire a Disney animator, someone who had just been let go by Disney. You can guess who this was - of course it was John Lasseter. The trouble was that George Lucas did not see his computer division as a filmmaking unit, he saw them as a computer group. Lasseter, an animator and a born storyteller, didn't really fit in. But it didn't stop Catmull and Smith from getting him on their payroll; they gave him the title of "Interface Designer" and they were off to the races.

Can you tell by reading, so far, that I was fascinated by the company's history? The author does a fine job of detailing that history, through Steve Jobs' purchase of the company from LucasFilm, from Jobs' own reservations about the company's ambitions as filmmakers, from the money they lost for Jobs, and finally, for the money they made for him, and for themselves.

But Pixar was never about money, and doesn't seem to be about money today - they are about artistic achievement in 3D computer animation. The book details the progression of their skills and their technology from the first TOY STORY movie, through CARS and RATATOUILLE. The epilogue talks about WALL*E and about the state of the principle characters since the Disney merger/acquisition.

I couldn't put this book down - it rivaled some of the best fiction I've been reading lately. A must read for anyone interested in animation history, in business, in filmmaking, or in Disney.

*****