Wednesday, November 5, 2014

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

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

The 5 Best Pools in Walt Disney World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Latest on Disney's Hollywood Studios

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

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hollywood Backlot Tour is Closed... Now What?

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

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

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What to do with "Imagination"

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Details of Main Street USA at Walt Disney World

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

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

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

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

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