Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The 5 Best Ride Queues in Walt Disney World

     Walt Disney World was built to be a place where the company fixed some of the mistakes it made in Disneyland. One of those mistakes, and a notable one at that, was the size of the property. Disneyland ended up being so small that the area available on which to build limited the creativity of the Imagineers. One of the ways to clearly see this is the difference in queue lines between Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Walt Disney World allows enough space for the design and story of the ride to truly consume you. You enter into a place at many attractions in which you cannot see anything from the outside world. I will concede that Disneyland's attractions also do a magnificent job with storytelling and immersion, given the space that they have, but the World has really mastered this art. The following are my favorite examples of Disney absorbing you into the attraction and story long before you ever get on the vehicle or enter the show.  I did limit my choices to rides, because shows often have a pre-show, putting them into a category all their own. 

  1. Expedition Everest: At the foot of the mountain, before you head up to meet the Yeti, you first must learn about the legend. In this queue, Imagineers will transport you in and out of buildings and temples in an old Nepalese town. As you walk outside, you will see statues of gods and yetis and offerings to them. You will see beautiful gardens and authentic decoration. Inside you will see displayed evidence of the Yeti, and many many newspaper articles and real (and imagineered) accounts of encounters with the snowman. Take this line slowly and appreciate the work that was put in here. It will make the ride much more meaningful. 
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean: In the Walt Disney World incarnation of this ride, you enter a pirate fort, under a tower, and first step into the dungeon. The air is dank and the light is low. Cannon balls and swords line the walls. You can peer in through iron-barred windows and see the skeletal inmates of the prison (watch for a game of cards). You'll meet a parrot, and can interact with props from the ride. This attraction is worth it just for the queue. The entire area of Pirates of the Caribbean is perfectly to theme, and is full of jokes from the movies, as well as countless treasures that show you just how far into pirate territory you have ventured. Perhaps too far?
  3. The Tower of Terror: Maybe I have an affinity for eerie queue areas? The queue for the Tower of Terror is an absolute treasure. Whether it is sunny or hazy, stepping into the hotel garden at the entrance to this attraction will make you feel like the mist is closing in on you. The chipping cement and constantly dying plants create the perfect quiet and ominous imminence. The silence is broken only by the screams of those who are going before you (whom you cannot see at this point). After the garden, you enter the lobby of the hotel, which resembles perfectly an elegant hotel from the 1930's (and clearly it hasn't been dusted since then). Read every sign in this line if you want to catch the jokes and hidden treasures. Look for statues that talk to you, or signs that tell you the story of the hotel. This line is marvelous, and I would wait in it all day.
  4. Jungle Cruise: Here we return to the Magic Kingdom for a good ol' Jungle Cruise. Most guests waiting in line here do not appreciate the genius that is all over the walls and beneath and above you. This is mostly because the queue is completely outdoors, and it is often real hot. My solution? Go at night! It is often empty and you can stroll at your own pace. The fire-lit attraction and queue make it even better! Watch for name gags, signs that tell the tale of the boat tours before you, and endless jokes. The audio you hear playing is an hour-long loop that features authentic olde music and a radio host who will make you smile. It all follows the story wonderfully.
  5. The Haunted Mansion: I thought I would conclude at the Magic Kingdom, just across town in Liberty Square. The Haunted Mansion is a true classic, and features Disney fun and creativity at its finest. This fun starts long before you board the ride. Outside, you wait beside a graveyard covered in headstones with fun phrases, all of which are mementos to past Imagineers who have had a large impact on the parks. Inside, you have a fun interaction and introduction to the story, and then walk down a hall lined with shelves of books. Are the busts on the wall watching only you? Pay attention to all the illusions and tricks here. It is often just walked by. Enjoy!
    I always say to slow down and watch for all of the hard work that imagineers put into their parks! This includes the queues. These are not the only five that are magnificent. What are your favorite?

Thank you so much for reading

-William Tollefson (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Disney and the Age of Acquisition

     I would like to take one post and dedicate it to an opinion I have that is coupled with a fear about the Disney company. As Disney grows and becomes even more of a monolith, it is facing several temptations as a company, and I feel that it is falling victim to many of them. This post is not intended to denounce or show any reduction in my love of Walt Disney World, but just to be a reminder that we all need to hold Disney accountable for what it is doing.
     Let's go back, first of all, to the roots of the parks. At Epcot, an innovative and new idea about practical solutions to world problems arises from a dream of Walt Disney. While this theme park titled "Epcot" is not at all what Walt had planned, the park did stay true to its theme. It was a place where corporations shared new ideas, and Disney was a part of it. It was a Disney original. It was about teamwork. The attractions in early Epcot included two Disney original characters created and imagined by Disney exclusively for use at that specific park: Figment and Dreamfinder. Each land was new and exciting, and the shows and rides showed hope for progress, and were Disney at heart.
     In 1989, the Disney MGM Studios opened so that guests could be part of the movie making process. While this didn't go particularly according to plan, the park did play host to some films with which Disney either cooperated, or created in-house. And at the center of it all was the animation studio that created real Disney movies in front of you.
     In 1998, Disney opened a theme park that had never been done before. It took its experience with designing rides, shows, and exhibits with unparalleled storytelling, and applied it to the world of live animals! Animal rights activists, critics, and much of the world said it was going to be a zoo, and that it would flop because theme park and animal don't go together. However, through Disney's innovation and creativity, as well as their striving for excellence, they created a theme park that has changed the lives of many who have visited.
     And let's not forget the Magic Kingdom. In 1971, Walt's Floridian Disneyland opened and graced the East Coast with its complete immersion and magnificent scale and beauty. No theme park of this magnitude had been built before. Funded by Walt's faith in Mary Poppins, the Magic Kingdom defied expectations and became the Vacation Capital of the World that it was supposed to be.
     All of this, one will notice, began with originality, creativity, risk, excellence, and imagination. These traits, I'm fearing, are slowly being lost in the Disney company. I fear that as a reaction to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter across town, Disney has grasped at outside sources and thrown obscene amounts of money (5.5 Billion for Star Wars) so that it could stay afloat and promote worlds and stories that already exist outside the company. In an effort to expand and make more and more millions each year, they seem to be trending toward simply acquiring stories rather than telling them and writing them. I use as examples their purchases of Star Wars and Marvel in the last few years. I, for the life of me, cannot decide how sci-fi space movies (with the word WAR right in the title!) and huge muscled punching shooting fighting gun-obsessed strong men physically punching each other for two hours on the big screen reflect the ideals of Disney.
     I have memories of Disney telling me to wish upon a star when I was a child. That spirit has never left me. I challenge all of us to pressure Disney to stay true to that spirit of gentle and beautiful wishes coming true, rather than violent (though often awesome) movies being bought and sold under their name so they can make more money off of them.

     Again, these are my opinions, and I hope they don't offend any of you. I LOVE Star Wars, and Marvel has its place. I just don't want them anywhere near my Cinderella Castle at night beneath the fireworks and uplifting music. I want them far away from my someday 4 year-old daughter who will learn just like me that wishes do come true, and not from shooting all the bad guys with guns, or having the biggest muscles.

Thanks for reading my rant!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

5 Reasons to Stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

     Perhaps you've heard about Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Maybe you have visited to see what all the hullabaloo is about. I trust that you weren't disappointed. Disney created an incredible thing when it built this resort, which could be a vacation destination all its own. I want to preface this article by saying that I have visited both sections of the resort: Kidani Village and Jambo House. I will refer to only things at Jambo House for the purposes of this article because I believe that every aspect of it is better. Kidani Village is also a wonderful place, but Jambo House has everything Kidani Village has, and more. Here are my 5 reasons that I think you need to stay at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge on your next trip:

  1. Boma lies along the stream of water that runs from the massive lobby down toward Uzima Pool. What you'll find here is a buffet-style restaurant that features a combination of authentic African fare and fun food that artistically displays African themes. For example, you will find "fufu" (an African sweet potato dish that will blow you away) as well as famous little domes of chocolate mousse painted like Zebras. The waiters are wonderful, the location is romantic and beautiful (and loud), the smells will get you excited before you see the place itself, and the food will make you wonder how you lived before eating here.
  2. Live Animals roam the savannas that wrap around and completely envelope the resort building. These animals include Zebra, Giraffe, and Ostrich, as well as animals much less known such as Kudu, Bongo, Gemsbok, and other antelope, with a highlight being the great Eland, the largest antelope in the world. Walking around the resort, there are various windows, balconies, offshoots, and walkways that allow you to see the savanna. Be sure to visit Arusha Rock, which juts out from the end of the lobby, as well as the viewing area from the pool.
  3. The Cast Members that work at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are welcoming and delightful, and many of them are from Africa. In a similar way to Epcot, Disney hires patrons from other countries to come and represent their homeland in Walt Disney World. You will find men and women from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and all over Africa standing around the resort waiting to talk to you. A highlight that I always make sure to enjoy is the nightly Africa talk. In a small seating area next to the lobby, one of the African ambassadors will give an intimate presentation on their home country and its politics, animals, culture, and reasons why they love their homeland. They love answering questions, and will enlighten you profoundly. 
  4. The Lobby at Jambo House is in itself a reason to stay at the lodge. When you walk in through the sliding doors and through the breezeway, you look forward toward a massive room made of dark carved woods, and an authentically African-thatched roof. Hallways, a fire pit, stairways, rock work, waterfalls, and separate rooms shoot off from the large central seating area. Dimly lit side areas and inviting paths toward adventure are broken by the only natural light in the room coming from the expansive window opposite you. Vines have made their way up this window, and you can see plants and trees and rocks outside that hint at the savanna. Do not take this moment lightly. Pause and plan which paths you want to explore.
  5. The Rooms at the resort are beautifully decorated with dark browns and yellows and African art. The real highlight, however, is waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. I have been known to, since I was a pretty small child, wake up at 5 am and watch the sun rise over the savanna, and the animals marching into their feeding areas. It is so perfectly quiet and awe-inspiring to see these animals doing their daily routines. If you can, stay in a room with a savanna view. If you do, spend time at the room on the balcony taking it in.
     Even if the Lodge is above your budget, do take time to visit. It is a unique and amazing experience independent of the rest of Disney World. All of the Disney magic is there, plus a piece of Africa that you can't see or feel or smell anywhere else.

Thanks so much for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Two Rides We Know are Coming to Pandora

     It has been a couple years since Disney announced that it would be building a land themed after James Cameron's world from Avatar. The opening has been scheduled for 2017, and details are very slowly coming out as to what will be featured in this new land. We can count on atmosphere, decoration, "floating islands", food, rides, and long lines. In the realm of rides, Disney has confirmed the plans to open two specific rides: a boat-style ride and a flying ride on the back of a Banshee. Here is what we know:

     The boat ride will be a slower ride. It will be dark at times, which will give Disney a chance to show off their technological breakthroughs for the land. Imagineers have hinted at an abundance of "bio-luminescent" plant life around your boat. They have also confirmed that there will be small drops on the ride, but made it sound like this would be a relatively tame ride, as compared to the other ride coming to the land. I would guess that your boat will be floating along peacefully in Pandora, on a tour of the land, when a corporation looking to harvest minerals interrupts you and tries to ruin your adventure. Just a guess.
     The second ride that Disney has confirmed is a flying simulation in which guests ride atop Banshees. Joe Rohde of Expedition Everest Imagineering fame has commented that the ride will borrow some technology from Soarin' over at Epcot, but will also bring in new and innovative "ground breaking" technology. He also said it will be a much more thrilling experience than Soarin'. My guess is that Disney is going to use similar technology to that used in The Adventures of Spiderman and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey over at Islands of Adventure. However, I'm sure Disney would never admit this. I am also sure that Disney's storytelling ability will push this attraction well beyond either of those previously mentioned in overall quality.
     Another thing that should be mentioned is the testing of technology for flying creatures that fly independently in the sky. Disney has surprised guests a few times in the sky of the Magic Kingdom by shining a light on a dragon that flies by itself and breathes fire. I could see this working very well with Banshees flying in the skies of Pandora. Here is a link to the video that Disney has released of the dragon technology. That, of course, is speculation. I think Disney is doing exciting things here!

Thanks so much for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

5 Things to do with Dad at Walt Disney World

     Many of us grew up making powerful memories with our dads. Some of the best times of my own life have been spent doing nothing of any particular importance within the context of paternal care. Walt Disney World offers endless opportunities for dads and their kids to get away from work, school, or even the rest of the family for some good fatherly time. Here are my ideas for the very best places for you kids to take your dads on your next trip (or vice versa perhaps).
  1. Crescent Lake next to Disney's Yacht, Beach Clubs and Boardwalk Resorts is a perfect place to connect with dad. You can rent a rat racer boat together from the dock over by the Yacht Club and explore between Epcot and Hollywood Studios. At night, you can walk over by the Boardwalk and catch a magician doing his tricks, each with some popcorn in hand. For a small fee, you can rent a cycle trolly and ride it around the entire lake! They come complete with four seats, bells, and a cloth cover to keep you dry! A day on this lake is the perfect place for some fatherly time.
  2. World Showcase at Epcot is my favorite place in the world (lower case). While the Showcase is perfect to explore with anyone at all, the aspect that I connect most with dad time is meeting people from other countries. Most of the individuals that work at each pavilion around World Showcase Lagoon are citizens of the country they are representing. This means they speak the language, know the culture, and actually grew up there. They very often love talking to you about the country they love, and are an incredible wealth of knowledge and understanding of a place you probably know nothing about. Dads, take this opportunity to approach good and kind strangers with your kids, and teach them about how other cultures are different from our own, and that this is a good thing! 
  3. Disney Springs Marketplace (formerly known as Downtown Disney) is the perfect place to geek out with your dad. Have you ever heard of pin trading? Some of my fondest memories are that of buying a pin or two with dad from the giant pin station at the Market, and looking around at the pins possessed by the unbelievably dedicated collectors who spend their time standing and talking to people about pins. These people don't work for Disney, but often use all of their free time in the parks and at pin stands talking to other guests! They are often wonderful to kids, and will sometimes offer them treasures they will never forget. This makes for great adventures with dad.
  4. Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is its own vacation. With the art, architecture, African cast members, wild animals, African dining, lobby, pool (I could go on ad infinitum), etc., featured here, you could easily spend several days being immersed in Disney's Africa. One of my favorite things to do as a child was to run around the Resort with a checklist in hand of all animals featured on the property. Disney, however, was smart and didn't put all the animals together all through the savanna. The Gemsbok is in some places, and not others. There are Bongos, but they hide in the bushes only next to the pool. I won't spoil all of it! Go run around with dad and see if you can find them all!
  5. Disney's Electrical Water Pageant is a tradition from opening day. it is a series of barges that float around the Seven Seas Lagoon outside the Magic Kingdom after dark, and often after park closing. They were designed so that children who are sleepy and ready to sleep can look out their hotel room windows for one last bit of magic before they snooze off to dreamland. The floats are bright, beautiful, and pretty magical. The music is cheesy and catchy, but it is an intimate and charming kiss goodnight from Walt Disney World. If you stay along the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon, do wake up your young one just to see this. They will wonder the next day if that time dad woke them up to see those lights on the water really happened, or if it was a dream.
     This post is dedicated to my dad, on his birthday. Happy birthday dad. I love you.

Thank you so much for reading! Subscribe and follow for more!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Two Homages to Past Attractions hidden in Walt Disney World

     As is the way of things, attractions at Walt Disney World are always coming and going. They become outdated, are no longer popular, or simply need to go to make way for something bigger and better. When this happens, Disney does not just forget about what was there before. Disney will often remove an attraction from one of its theme parks and leave a copy of that attraction in another park. Just that has happened to Walt Disney World in the demise of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
     Disney Parks are famous for their constant and clever hidden attributions to the origins and history of their parks. When you see a name on something in Walt Disney World, there is a very high chance that behind that name or label or title is a story. Nothing is there for no reason. One example, which I wrote about here, is the decoration of windows along Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. In this post, however, I will tell you about two hidden homages to extinct and beloved attractions: Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
     Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was an opening day attraction at Disneyland and in Walt Disney World in 1955 and 1971, respectively. It was based on Disney's 1949 film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The Magic Kingdom incarnation of the ride closed in 1998 and was replaced by The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. However, there is a wonderful little homage to the former attraction in the new ride there. On the ride, observant guests will notice a picture of Mr. Toad handing over the deed to the property to Owl of Winnie the Pooh fame.
     Another attraction that has not been forgotten in Walt Disney World is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 20,000 Leagues opened in 1959 in Disneyland during a major expansion along with Matterhorn Bobsleds. The 20,000 Leagues in Walt Disney World opened in 1971, and closed in 1994 due to the fact that it didn't handle crowds well, and was expensive to run. In the New Fantasyland expansion of 2013, Disney added several attractions, including the new Journey of the Little Mermaid. This attraction lies roughly on top of where the lagoon for 20,000 Leagues was. In the queue for the Mermaid attraction, Imagineers carved into the face of the rock one of the submarines from the former ride. 
     Keep your eyes out for Disney referencing former attractions and shows in their new construction. This is all part of Disney's obsession with storytelling that is constantly adding incredible depth to their parks.

Thanks for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Sorcerer's Hat Comes Down Tomorrow. Why Was it There, Anyway?

     Disney announced earlier this year that 2015 would bring the removal of the Sorcerer Mickey hat that has  long adorned the end of Hollywood Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It has functioned as a pin station, a hub of different shows and events, and a merchandise shop. Many don't know, however, that the hat came for a reason, served a function, and will now leave for a reason.
     In 2001, Disney World celebrated (17 months of) its "100 Years of Magic" promotion, counting 100 years since the birth of Walt Disney. The World brought in several attractions from around the rest of the Disney world to accompany this celebration. These included Soarin' from Disney's California Adventure and the Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show from Disneyland Paris. Along with the celebration in Florida came a name and sponsorship change in the then called Disney MGM Studios. Disney no longer had a partnership with MGM, and was working on retooling the park so as not to infringe on legal rights of MGM. One of the issues that came up at this time was the Chinese Theater at the end of Hollywood Boulevard. Since the Park's opening in 1989, the Theater had been the dubbed "weenie" of the park. It was all over signs, advertisements, postcards, trash cans, and everything they sold at the Studios. Those of you with better memories will remember that Disney very suddenly removed that facade from all of its merchandise, and stuck a giant sorcerer hat in front of the Theater. This happened as a deal between Disney and MGM, in response to a claim by MGM that Disney remove the theater from the park completely, because it owned the original Chinese Theater in California. As a compromise, Disney essentially covered up the Theater, and removed it from all of its merchandise and signs.
     Thirteen years later, Disney will tomorrow remove the Sorcerer's hat, and allow the theater to once again shine as the center Hollywood Studios. This change comes in front of major upheavals coming to the Studios, and is a sign that Disney is not completely abandoning its roots in its Studios park. What changed between Disney and MGM you ask? The new deal between Disney and Turner Classic Movies allowed Disney to upgrade the Great Movie Ride, and purchase the rights to the beautiful building that was once so iconic in the park. However you feel about the hat, big and exciting things are happening here!

Thank you for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Monday, January 5, 2015

5 Quiet Corners to Complete your Date Night

     Walt Disney World is truly a romantic place. The lights, music, people, mood, positive atmosphere, and old world feel of it all lend themselves to the perfect date night. However, a problem that you may encounter on your night out is that of other people... and lots of them. Walt Disney World is getting more and more crowded, and it is getting increasingly difficult to find a moment to share between you and your date. In this post, I want to give you a few ideas about where you can take your date to have just a moment to yourselves. I will keep them within the theme parks, because you will not have a problem finding a place if you have a hotel room (duh). There are many more than this, but here are some of my favorites!

  1. In the French Pavilion at Epcot, there is a small street that veers off to the left of the main square. While this used to be a much better spot to have a moment of relaxation, before the addition of a major counter-service restaurant in the back, it is still very romantic and quaint if you go when that restaurant is closed. The alley is decorated with French shops and signs, facades and art. In addition, there is nothing more romantic than sharing an ice cream cone and watching the rushing passers-by. Check when the restaurant will be closed, and make your plan for that time. You won't regret it
  2. At the UK Pavilion in Epcot, follow the path next to the cottage when entering from the International Gateway, and you will find yourself in a quiet garden square behind the buildings. There are paths, flowers, and wonderful buildings to look at. This garden is often completely empty during the day, and is often wonderfully shaded by the trees. The music, plants, and seclusion will whisk you away to a land of English Royalty and the elevated lifestyle that you deserve.
  3. Streets of America, over at Hollywood Studios, are rich with detail and attention, although they are oft-ignored. This, however, will work to your advantage if you are looking for places to have a romantic walk. Save for the holiday season, these streets are usually bare at night, and are dimly lit and will give you the feel of walking city streets at night by yourselves, with the addition of Disney enhanced reality. Take advantage of these streets while you still can! Big changes are coming to the Studios, and this area could be gone before you know it.
  4. The Walt Disney World Railroad, which circumnavigates the Magic Kingdom throughout the day, is a classic attraction that suffers because it is not a thrill ride. However, it is a beautiful and quaint tour of the Magic Kingdom, with a charming and informative narration that will brighten your evening. On a day in the off-season, the train will be nearly empty when it runs at night, and you and your date can enjoy a private tour around the Kingdom. What is more romantic than that? These steam engines are full of history, and are a staple of the Disney company. Go enjoy them!
  5. The Oasis, over at the Animal Kingdom, is a treat at night. If you find yourself lucky enough to be at the Animal Kingdom past dark, do not rush out with your date. Even if the park is closed, take your time meandering over the bridge from Discovery Island, and stop at the Oasis. Listen to the waterfalls and streams, and enjoy the seclusion under the trees and in the plants. The Oasis is dimly lit at night, and has a magical feel to it. The Tree of Life is also beautifully lit at night, and is visible from the back of the Oasis.

     Do your research before you go on your date! There are many many places to escape the crowds and enjoy having a section of a Disney Park to yourselves. Happy dating!

Thank you for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Animal Kingdom's Coming Night-time Spectacular: Rivers of Light

     Since its inception, Disney's Animal Kingdom has been the only park in Walt Disney World without a night-time show. In previous articles, I have written about how night-time spectaculars at the World are arguably the most important facet of the parks. The shows are inspirational, thought-provoking, tear-jerking, and bring together the themes of everything you learned and experienced throughout the day. Therefore, I have long advocated for the Animal Kingdom as a half-day park. While the attractions are incredible, the shows beautiful, and the music and atmosphere unique and wonderful, the park has lacked a uniting event to tie together all of the threads of a day at the park. It has lacked a reason to stay and spend time there. However, all that is about to change.
     Disney recently announced officially, and began construction on, a night-time show that will be in the realm of World of Color (at Disney's California Adventure) and Fantasmic!. However, the show will have its own identity, and will feature all new effects and elements that Disney has never done before. Below is the concept art that Disney has released to raise excitement about the coming show:

     Some have responded with skepticism about the show, saying that there was a reason there has never been a show. Animal Kingdom has always closed early because the animals in the park need to sleep. Also, a show with bright lights and loud sounds might disturb the animals. However, Disney officials have responded by saying that while the animals are on the savanna and in the exhibits during the day, they go inside to their enclosures at night and are well away from the front of the park. They also say that the show will be suited perfectly for the park that hosts it, implying that the show will be designed to accommodate nearby sleepy animals.  
     This show coincides with the scheduled opening of the Pandora at the Animal Kingdom. Disney is hoping that with these two additions, they will be able to create a reason to visit the park at night, and therefore keep it open longer. The show after dark, as well as the beautifully lit night-time area of Pandora should create plenty of draw to the park at night. One will also notice that the two lands toward the front of the park (Dinoland U.S.A. and Pandora) could both remain open after dark with no fear of disturbing animals. Maybe this was the plan all along...?
     The show will take place on the lake between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest. Construction walls are up around the Tree of Life, as well as around this lake. It is expected that the land around the lake will be expanded, and that trees and other view-obstructing structures will be removed, so as to make a viable viewing promenade. Cranes are up around the Tree of Life, with cherry-pickers being seen next to the tree at night. This leads me to think that the show will include lights and effects on the tree itself. Disney has said that the show will debut some time in 2016, which is interestingly before the scheduled opening of Pandora. Exciting things are afoot! 

Thank you for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Disney's Beastly Kingdom: What Could Have Been

     Happy New Year! I'm back from my holiday vacation and ready to talk some more Disney World! Today I want to share a bit about a land at Disney's Animal Kingdom. This land, however, was never built. Though Disney broke ground recently on an Avatar themed land at the Animal Kingdom, the original intent of the Imagineers was to build an area of the park that focused on mythical creatures such as dragons, unicorns, and the like. This would have given the park two lands based on real continents (Africa and Asia), and two lands based on Animals you can't see anywhere else (Dinosaurs and mythical creatures). The parallelism here is a nice image.
     In 1998, Animal Kingdom opened with three lands available to the public: Africa, Dinoland U.S.A, and Camp Minnie Mickey. Asia wasn't ready for opening day, and Camp Minnie Mickey was always intended to be a place holder for the soon-to-come "beastly kingdom". In the opening of the park, the dragons and unicorns played as important a role in the signage and suspense for the future as did elephants and tigers. To this day, the Animal Kingdom features a "unicorn" section in its parking lot, a dragon on its insignia, and a few other hints for what was to come.
     The most important remnants from the planned kingdom lie along the banks of the Discovery River, which flows around Discovery Island. Many fans will remember that at one point, guests could ride boats on a tour on this river, and get some beautiful views from the park. One important facet of this tour was a mysterious encounter with a rock formation outside of Camp Minnie Mickey. As the boat floated by the rocks, which seemed to be shaped like a dragon (or is it your imagination?), sounds of monsters could be heard from inside, and fire would be shot out of the mouth of the dragon! This was intended to be a little teaser for the land that was soon to open in the park. If you cross the bride to Camp Minnie-Mickey today, you can still see this rock formation in the distance, though Disney tries to hide it now.
      As the Animal Kingdom grew and aged, the beastly kingdom made less sense. Guests wanted more contact with real animals, and imagineers worried about the impact that fantasy-themed rides would have on the animals. The Festival of the Lion King quickly became the park's most successful show, and was planted firmly in Camp Minnie Mickey. Protesters also made sure Disney heard how much they didn't appreciate comparing real animals to fantasy ones. We will see how people respond to the new Avatar-themed land. For now, it is fun to think about what could have been. We will also see how much of this land ends up coming to fruition with some Avatar attractions as vehicles, rather than Disney-original themes.

Friday, December 19, 2014

5 Tips for Saving While Eating in Walt Disney World

     While there are many many ways to be smart and save money at Walt Disney World, some of the costs are just large. Hotels, in general, are expensive. Park tickets are the base of your spending, and are always expensive. Likewise, eating in Walt Disney World is expensive. The key things to keep in mind while planning how you will eat while on your vacation are as follows:

  • Eat at places that maximize the experience you have, and your value for the dollar spent. Disney World dining is incredible, if you do your homework and spend in the right places. Read before you go!
  • Don't spend extra money on food you can get anywhere, and food that will not give you the truly cherish-able experience that Disney World should be.

My five tips for dining at the World center around these two themes. In general, you have to start by facing the fact that it will cost money to go to Walt Disney World, and that your dining budget is part of the money you save for your experience. Once you have that idea down, here is my advice:
  1. Bring food! There are grocery stores near Walt Disney World. No one is stopping you from taking a quick trip to these places, stocking up on bars and shakes and coffee and even sandwiches. Disney will never remind you of this, but you can and should eat your own food for several of your meals. I recommend one special breakfast brunch for your trip, and then eating your own breakfast in the room for the rest of the time. You could save hundreds of dollars! In addition, Disney does not mind you bringing food into their parks. Replace several of your meals out on adventures with your own food! You will be healthier, thinner, and you don't have to buy all of your meals at Disney prices (which are often interstellar). 
  2. Tables in Wonderland is Disney's dining membership club.... sort of. I say "club" because it is only available to annual passholders, Florida residents, and Disney Vacation Club members. For annual passholders, the card is $100. This card is usable at almost any restaurant on property, and saves you 20% on all dining, including alcohol. So, if you plan on spending $500 on food for your family (which you probably should bet on), you will save money with this card. You could save hundreds of dollars. More details about this card here
  3. Disney Dining Plan... for Free? This one is a littler harder to come by, but could save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Most years, around September, Disney offers "free dining" to those staying at select Deluxe Resorts on property. This plan, at its most basic level, allows you to enjoy one snack, one counter service meal, and one sit-down experience per day. If you receive this plan for your stay, you could very very easily purchase no food on your vacation, and dine very well. With your dining points, you can enjoy some of Disney's finest restaurants for free.
  4. Share Your Food. So, assume you have either purchased or received for free the Disney Dining Plan. You now have one "point" per day to use on sit-down eating. One way to truly maximize this plan is to share. You will find that the portions of Disney dining are often... immense. You can go to many restaurants on property, order off of the set menu, and be perfectly satisfied with half of the food you receive. You can order the food for one person, thus only spending one "point". There are a few disclaimers I should put here. While Disney does allow this, they will never encourage it. You will also have to check beforehand to see which places will serve you enough food for two people. Additionally, you cannot use this trick at buffet-style venues, which are often some of the best on property. lastly, I have to say that the Disney dining plan is far too much food for me, and I do not eat lightly!
  5. Spend Little, Experience it all. Fifth and finally, my advice would be to maximize your dollar by buying small amounts of food at the most expensive places. For example, you and your date could go to the California Grill (pictured above), watch the fireworks, and have an unbelievable night, for only the cost of two glasses of wine and a plate of sushi. This could run you as little as $35, and could be an unforgettable night. You could then go back to your hotel, and buy a sandwich in the gift shop, or share a salad next to the pool. You don't have to spend all of your dining money at the restaurant to have the experience. And that experience is really what the dining is about. 
     I hope these are helpful tips! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below, and I will do the best I can to answer. 

Thank you sincerely for reading, 


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Walt Disney World had an on-site Airport!

     Some of my favorite tidbits about Walt Disney World are those that never really happened the way they were supposed to. For example, I've written about a couple of hotels that never quite came to fruition: the Venetian and the Asian (click to read about them). In this post, however, I want to talk about a little historical tidbit that did happen, but only for a short period of time.
     You're taking the monorail from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom on a lovely afternoon . As you approach the Transportation and Ticket Center, you look to the right, and notice a large open area of concrete with trucks and other transport on it, behind the fleeting trees. For just a moment, you just caught a glimpse of a fascinating piece of Disney history: Lake Buena Vista STOL airport. While this air strip is used for parking and transport today, it once served as a functional airstrip. Yes, airplanes could be seen daily flying over and next to Cinderella Castle:


     STOL airport opened in 1971, along with the Walt Disney World resort. It went along with the theme of Walt Disney World: an all-inclusive vacation destination, where guests would stay for many days, and never run out of entertainment and activities. With this airport, guests could fly right in, and not have to worry about their transportation from Orlando. They would just jump off of their long flight, and back onto a short flight direct to the Magic Kingdom! Sounds great, right?
     It was great for a few years. However, as the Kingdom grew in popularity, the flights got more and more frequent, and the airport quickly outgrew its infrastructural capabilities. Pilots began complaining that the air strip was not long enough. The port never really had a hangar, so only four planes could be at the strip at a time. In 1975, with the growth of the World following the end of the oil crisis, the airport became impractical, and was closed until a time when it could be renovated to handle the crowds. However, in 1982, with the construction of the monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center to Epcot, the air strip lost any hope of opening again. The rail was simply too close to the air strip to ever allow planes near it again.
     And so, all we are left with is a fun glimpse through the trees to wonder what it must have been like to fly directly into Walt Disney World.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Is Frozen Too Present in Walt Disney World?

     If you have been to Walt Disney World in the last year or so, you will have noticed an ever-growing presence of Disney's most successful movie of all time: Frozen. The film blew away all other cartoons ever made, and outsold by far all other Disney movies to date, even unseating The Lion King. With this huge success, Disney has not hesitated to place Frozen into its Theme Parks in Florida, and at a remarkable pace and volume! I want to take a moment to analyze whether or not Frozen in the parks has gone too far.
     The first casualty to the Frozen obsession was our beloved tempestuous sea-faring adventure. An imminent Frozen ride has closed that beloved attraction in Epcot, and will open in 2016. The termination of Maelstrom led to many devoted fans rioting in the streets... well... mostly the internet. I wrote a brief story about that here. A new fireworks show was added to Hollywood Studios several nights of the week, featuring mostly the left-over fireworks from the other shows. It is fun, but pales miserably in comparison to Wishes and Illuminations, and even Fantasmic!. When Elsa and Anna first came to the World, the lines at the Norway Pavilion in Epcot were immediately up to five hours long. When they moved to be included in the Magic Kingdom, the lines didn't go down much. Summers at Walt Disney World included a party at the Magic Kingdom which was Frozen themed. "A Frozen Holiday Wish" replaced the normal Wishes show at the Magic Kingdom. This year's Very Merry Christmas Party includes and focuses on the Frozen characters.
     So, what to make of this? First, I would like to point out that many, many people are extremely excited (to the point of delirium) about Frozen coming to the Parks. This survey on the Disboards shows that nearly half of people are more excited about the new Frozen ride than they are angry about Maelstrom leaving. I tend to agree with this. Maelstrom was wonderful, and was a part of my childhood. However, it was not the incredible journey or real representation of the people of Norway which it was made out to be. The argument that Disney is putting cartoons into a "real" attraction is bogus. The ride was about trolls, and was sponsored by a Norwegian Oil company. Because of this, I mourn the loss of Maelstrom, but also look forward to the story by Hans Christian Anderson making its way into the pavilion.
     Additionally, Disney World is always bringing in new things to its parks. People seem to be angry this time, because what they are bringing in is replacing many unsuccessful things (people like to root for the underdog). Nostalgics like myself are always tempted to think that the old was better, or how it ought to be. However, Disney World must keep evolving in order to stay open. The incredible shows, the unmatched level of service, and the life-changing messages do not come without Disney selling what it has to the public.
     We must always remember a few things: First, A Frozen Holiday Wish will go away, and will be replaced by a collection of Disney classics nightly in the Magic Kingdom sky. Next, Frozen will soon join the echelon of Disney movies that make up our collective cultural memory, and bring us back to childhood. Lastly, Disney World is not a museum. As the culture of the world changes, the culture of the World changes. Walt Disney World is built to be a reflection of hope back on a world that actually exists. It is part myth, and part optimistic interpretation of reality. Simply sit through Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, and you will know that Disney World is not stuck in the past, or stuck in an unreality of a false world. It is a celebration of real people, and a thus must reflect what real people see as good. Right now, Frozen is a positive message that much of the world wants to see.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Disney's Venetian Resort: What Could Have Been

     Along with the many wonderful ideas for Walt Disney World that became reality, there have been several ideas blocked by inhibiting factors, or supplanted by ideas that were even better. The story of the origins of Walt Disney World hotels is one of failures, learning, and beautiful results. In this post I want to talk about one of the ideas in Walt Disney World that was fully ready for production, and was even under construction, when it unfortunately fell through (literally).
     In the late 1960's, Disney began clearing land on the east side of the Seven Seas Lagoon, across the water bridge from the Contemporary. The Venetian was going to complement the Asian Resort, which was to be built across the lake. Here is the plan for the two resorts on the lake:

     The Venetian was going to be a series of canals and buildings to imitate Venice, Italy. It was going to possess a glass ceiling lobby to let sunlight in. The resort's central figure was to be a replica of the campanile of St. Mark's Square. The transportation boats to take guests to the Magic Kingdom would roll through the canals of the resort and take hotel guests on tours of the replica city. 
     The idea for the resort never came to fruition, for two main reasons. First, the land on that spot was determined far into the project to be unsuitable for supporting buildings. Foundation would be laid and sink into the unstable ground. One will notice that to this day, there is nothing at all built on the land between the Transportation and Ticket Center and the Contemporary Resort. It is one of the few blank spaces visible in Walt Disney World. In addition, the oil crisis of 1973 put a hold on Disney's construction of all kinds, most especially hotel ground-breaking.
     The savvy reader will notice that the idea of a Venice-themed area did not disappear forever. Today's Italy pavilion at Epcot is very close to the idea of the Venetian Resort. Even the idea for canals and boat tours was seriously considered as an attraction for the Italian Pavilion. The boats on the waterfront were originally built to be part of this attraction. As they say, a good idea at Imagineering never truly dies. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My 5 Favorite Holiday Happenings at Walt Disney World

     December is here! Walt Disney World is the perfect place for the Holidays. The quaintness, diversity, and already magical atmosphere lend themselves beautifully to the traditions of Christmas and the Holidays. Come mid-November, Disney's elves are hard at work for just a couple nights, out of sight, to transform Walt Disney World into a celebration for the season. All of the resorts, all theme parks, and every other place in the World puts on a new outfit full of snow and cheer. The music playing in the parks and hotels changes to Christmas music. Disney doesn't just re-theme their lands either; they create and provide unique attractions and shows just for the Holidays. Here are my 5 favorite things to see during the Holidays at Walt Disney World:

  1. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights: sits nestled in the back of Disney's Hollywood Studios. Each year, 20,000 man hours go into the hanging of 40 miles of cable and lights onto the Streets of America. The light display was purchased from a family in Arkansas in the 1990's, and was transplanted to Disney World. Recently, the display was changed to include "dancing" lights, which are timed to music, and put on an inspiring show. The lights include reindeer, a globe, and millions of lights. It is worth park admission by itself. 
  2. Holidays Around the World: happens each December at Epcot's World Showcase. Around the lagoon, actors and speakers from each country represented at Epcot speak several times a day about the Holiday traditions of that country. The American Adventure includes Christmas music from the Voices of Liberty, and many other countries' programs include performances. Many traditions, such as Germany and the U.K., are relatively similar to what we know, but are just different enough to be interesting and informative. 
  3. Fireworks at New Years, Magic Kingdom Style: Each year, Disney goes even bigger with their fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom on New Years. Keep in mind, I mean "at the Magic Kingdom" very loosely. When I most recently saw the show, fireworks were launched from the middle of the Seven Seas Lagoon, as well as from several areas in and out of the Park. I spent my evening at the Grand Floridian, and was still right in the middle of the show. If you want to see Disney pull out the stops, here is your chance. 
  4. Celebratory Edibles: at Disney's resort hotels are present and large, and will fill you with a little bit of childish wonder. At Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, the kitchen works each year to construct a life-size gingerbread house in the lobby. This monument to the holidays is a special treat, and a beautiful example of Disney pushing boundaries. At the Beach Club Resort, a carousel is constructed out of gingerbread. The carousel moves and works, and is surrounded by other food and edible art. It is another must-see. At Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, a miniature African village is made of chocolate and cookies each year. It is always different, and is located right outside of Boma. All of these sights are free to go see, and can be accessed using Disney transportation. Don't hesitate!
  5. "Peace on Earth" Tag to Illuminations: Epcot's nightly fireworks show becomes even more life-changing during the holidays. After the "regular" ending (I cringe calling it that), Walter Cronkite's voice tells of Epcot's message to the world: that of "peace on earth; good will to men". In addition to the touching words, Epcot shoots off more beautiful and loud fireworks into the sky than you dare think possible. An amazing flurry of bright bursts will take your breath away, and lights up the entire park. This is a must-see.
     What is your favorite thing to do at Walt Disney World during the Holidays? Comment below!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Best Rides in Walt Disney World at Night

     After the sun goes down, the air at Walt Disney World takes on a new feel. The warm light accents every corner of the architecture, and the aspects of design and story present in the parks are even more showcased. Colors are brighter, and everything can be seen through a different lens. My favorite time in Walt Disney World is at night. I look forward every day to watching passers by and families enjoy the twinkling magical light. In this post, I want to lend ideas as to which rides are extra special at night. Riding some rides at night completely changes the experience, and can give you a new perspective on the respective theme park. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Expedition Everest: Take a ride to find the Yeti at night, and a few new elements are added. First, the garden at the beginning of the ride is now dimly lit by warm lighting. I wish they could slow down the ride a bit so I could enjoy it! Next, as you make your way up the chain lift, look over at the beautiful Tree of Life. The lights on it at night make the animals pop, and add an intimate feel. However, the intimacy ends when you enter the thrill portion of the ride, as you realize you can't see anything! The hills fly by, and it is hard to tell whether you're inside or out! The end of the ride is extra comforting and welcoming. This one's a real treat. 
  • Splash Mountain: This Disney classic is a great opportunity to dip into some whimsy at night. The hills and drops and canals on the outside of the ride give you little glimpses of the castle, Tomorrowland, the tops of the buildings in Adventureland, and Big Thunder. My favorite part of this ride at night, though, is the dark red glow of the rock work. It is a warm and welcoming color, bidding you enter into the swamp to join the adventure with your favorite Br'er animals.
  • Jungle Cruise: At night, the jungle seems just a little bit more teeming and dank than it usually does. The jokes at night are a little bit more casual, and the people on board a little bit more loosely tempered. This ride is another classic, and riding it at night is a great way to make you feel close to the place we love. 
  • Tower of Terror: The Twilight Zone Tower becomes even more spooky and fun at night. The entrance queue garden stays steamy, and makes it hard to see. If you jump out from some of the concrete to scare your family, I guarantee they will scream. Once you enter the lobby, it no longer feels like an illusion when lightning strikes outside. And best of all, when the door opens for you before your rapid descent at the top of the tower, you can look out and see the living and nostalgic streets of Hollywood Studios down below you. Scream loud so they can hear you down there!
     There are many more rides that are lots of fun at night! What do you think?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Restaurants You Should Feel Free to Skip

     While Walt Disney World provides dining experiences that can and will surprise and delight you with their ambiance, fare, taste, service, and immersive themes, not all of them are perfect. The purpose of this article is not to point out which restaurants at Disney World are bad, but rather which ones you should skip in favor of another truly great and memorable experience. Here are several places you should probably skip over in favor of something better:

  1. Rainforest Cafe: There are two of them on property, and they are both fun and loud and bright. They have fun fish tanks and big colors and talking animals and trees, and your kids may beg to eat there. However, most of you can go down to your local mega-mall and find your own Rainforest Cafe, and it will be just as good as this. First of all, go into any of the theme parks, and you will find animatronic animals that are much more life-like and beautiful than these ones. The food is usually far below average, and WAY below the Disney standard of dining. Children will be screaming, and the intercom will ring with "Johnson Safari of nine, please approach the elephant". My suggestion, use this as a secret entrance to the Animal Kingdom, and nothing else. 
  2. San Angel Inn: This is a tough one for me. The dining area itself is beautiful, and sends you into another world of pyramids and romantic night-time strolls on Mayan shores. However, a couple of things make this place unappealing to me. First, the food is so very expensive. I am always keeping in mind that Disney food is inherently expensive, but this is beyond that. You can easily spend $100 on a few tacos and ice cream for two people here. Please ride the ride, get a margarita at La Cava, and avoid this place. Look and don't eat.
  3. Liberty Tree Tavern: I have complicated feelings here also. I have fond memories eating mashed potatoes and Turkey and rolling back to the Resort. However, I think I have to come clean and say you shouldn't eat here. The food is something you can easily eat at home, and will render you large and rotund. The gravy is usually... solid. The atmosphere is cozy, but it is also fairly boring. It is also insanely expensive to feed your family here. I would say that you will learn more, enjoy more, and have a more Magic Kingdom experience if you walk across the street to the Columbia Harbor House. See this blog post as to why you should go there.
  4. Hollywood and Vine: This restaurant sits, ironically, right next to the 50's Prime Time Cafe at Hollywood Studios. It is a buffet meal, and will sit you at cushy booths with your family in a vaguely themed but mostly green Hollywood... room. Now, you will be spending about $50 per person for as much good food as you can scarf, which is pretty standard fare at an expensive Disney Restaurant. However, you know where you could eat for less money and have a wonderful and memorable experience? Right next door at the Prime Time. You will have more fun, eat less, be happier, and leave smiling.  
  5. Yak and Yeti: Now I must say that I have had a small sample size here, and that this review is intended for the sit-down portion. When I went, I ordered a chicken salad. When I got it, it was canned tangerines on top of lettuce, with no chicken. I sent it back, and the salad I got back was smaller, and the waiter was mad at me. So if I were you, I would head on over to Tusker House in Africa. I must also say that the art and decor here is beautiful. I spent most of my time walking around and looking, because I am a huge dork. Do the same! Just ask if you can walk around. 
     I hope this helps out your dining plans on your next trip! 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Great Movie Ride Updates to Come, and What This Means for Hollywood Studios

     Disney recently announced an agreement with Turner Classic Movies. The movie giant will be airing Disney programming on their television channel on special occasions. These "event programs" will be centered around the history of the Disney company, in an attempt to bring back and reignite the current generation about older Disney films. I am really looking forward to these shows, and will surely be tuning in.
     In addition to these programs, TCM will be sponsoring an update for Disney's Great Movie Ride attraction at Hollywood Studios. Disney has hinted that the changes will come in stages, and will begin with an update to the movie montage at the end of the ride, as well as the one in the waiting queue. The change will also eventually include updated ride scenes, and a new introductory/loading area. This is big news for those of us who have been waiting around for a decade for Disney to do something with this space. However, the implications of this news are wide-spread!
     Some have been wondering if Disney is going to drop the movie-making theme from the Studios park all together. They have been subtly hinting at this idea by closing the Studios Backlot Tour, and the promise of Star Wars Land. This update, however, seems to indicate that Disney is in fact investing in that aspect of the park. It also indicates that while the giant sorcerer's hat is finally leaving, the Chinese Theater will remain there, and will most likely re-establish itself as the focal point of the park. It means that the main stretch of Hollywood Boulevard will still act as the key welcoming feature and as an aesthetic introduction to the rest of the park.
     Looks like The Great Movie Ride is here to stay!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Disney's Asian Resort, What Could Have Been

     In the planning of Walt Disney World, many concepts were researched and developed, only to find that they didn't fit into the reality of Walt Disney World. These elements that never quite made it are one of my favorite things to talk about.
     In the 1960's, Disney Imagineers were throwing around ideas for resort themes, since this complete vacation Kingdom was going to now include themed resort hotels! Imaginations flew, and the onslaught of ideas was weened down to just a few that stuck. One of the ideas that stuck, and that was viewed as a pillar of the future of Walt Disney World was the Asian Resort. This Resort was to be built across the Seven Seas Lagoon from the Contemporary, and was to have a similar build to the Polynesian.
    The architecture was to be Thai and Chinese, with deep reds and intricate art and decor placed on the inside. The resort was intended to be a more upscale and elegant stay than that of the other resorts of the time.
     Construction began, and Disney's Asian Resort was scheduled to open in 1974. However, it was never finished, for the following two key reasons. One, the land on which it was built didn't support the structure. Construction teams would place building supports into the ground, and they would simply sink into the Florida muck. Second, the oil crisis of 1973 lost Disney much of its income of the time, and made construction much more expensive.
     The resort was one of several resorts that was never built, although construction began. The street "Floridian Way", now behind Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, was once called "Asian Way", and was built as an access road to the construction site of the Asian Resort. The Grand Floridian opened in 1988, essentially replacing the idea of the Asian, and probably preventing it from ever being built. But, it's fun to imagine!

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.

Thanks for reading!

-William (www.facebook.com/wdwforthetaking)

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).

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.

     3. 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.