Sunday, September 14, 2014

Three Reasons for Walt Disney World fans to go to Disneyland

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

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

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Avatar-Land?! But the children!

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

I'm back and feeling ambitious

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

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

Saturday, May 10, 2014

So... River Country?

     Here is my obligatory occasional post about Disney mystery and urban exploring that I have very legally taken part in. During my last trip to Walt Disney World, I was on a kick of learning about some abandoned places in the World. One of high intrigue for me was River Country, located over by Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. I would like to first emphasize that I did not trespass on any property on which I should not have been! Everything I learned and saw was part the resort where guests are welcome to be!
    River Country opened in 1976, five years after Walt Disney World. It was the first water park made by Disney, and was themed as a down home in the south kind of family adventure locale. It used water from Bay Lake to feed the slides and pools, and therefore felt very natural and part of the landscape; cool! Well in 2001, Disney closed the park. There are many theories as to why this is, but the one I believe is that Florida passed a new 'Water Use Ordinance' which required all water for water parks to come from man-made and filtered sources. This kind of ruined the whole idea of River Country. Consequently, Disney closed River Country, and later announced that it would not reopen. The weird part, however, is that Disney did not demolish the park... at all. In fact, the lights at the entrance to the park still light up and look alive each night. Even weirder is the part of River Country that I saw and explored.
     If you head from the boat dock at the Wilderness Lodge toward River Country, you arrive eventually at a BBQ area, surrounded by a green fence. This is clearly a place where guests are welcome, but it is an erie place. First of all, there is no music playing in the background. Second, I saw no cast members or movement of any kind in any direction from where I stood. I very much got the feeling that Disney didn't want people over there.
     Now there are two ways to experience a little bit of River Country today. First, you can use the restroom! The restrooms still have the faded and creepy "pool rules" posted on the outside of them. You can walk in, look around at the facilities, and I almost guarantee you will not see anyone else there during the day. Second, you can look at River Country. If you exit the restroom and stand on the rock in the garden area, you can get a nice view of what is left of that pool. It is very... apocalyptic and looks like something out of a zombie movie. If you're into that kind of thing, take a look!
     River Country was a big part of my childhood, and it is very surreal to go there today and look at what is left. Posted in "Will's Pics" is a picture that I took from on top of the above-described rock. Do you have any River Country experiences? Tell me about them below!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Taking Walt to Epcot

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mention: Eat at Flame Tree!

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

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

Honorable Mention: Toy Story Pizza Planet, Starring Rolls Cafe

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

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