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.

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

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

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

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Avatar-Land?! But the children!

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

I'm back and feeling ambitious

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

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

Saturday, May 10, 2014

So... River Country?

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