Archive for May, 2009

Backlot Express goes self-serve with beverages

by on May 27, 2009

The Backlot Express is benefiting from the (apparently) successful test run of self service beverages at Epcot’s Electric Umbrella. The good news is “free” refills, the bad news is smaller cups.

ABC Commissary drops breakfast

by on May 27, 2009

The ABC Commissary, a staple food service option at the Studios park, has discontinued serving breakfast. No apparent replacement is in the works and this removes a major venue from the breakfast lineup – thus we suggest eating before heading into the Studios. That is, if you want much more then a light snack without having to get a character dining reservation. Starring Rolls has croissants and bagels.

Paradiso 37 seriously delayed or canned completely?

by on May 27, 2009

The Paradiso 37 restaurant in Downtown Disney’s defunct Pleasure Island was scheduled to open in early to mid May. It has, to date, not opened. While construction delays are not uncommon in Disney’s world, the exterior of the building as seen over the refurbishment walls suggests it’s far from complete. Either the concept art released by Disney for the project was completely wrong (you can view it at, or they’ve scrapped much of the exterior aesthetic that was going to make the building look like anything more then a drab brown salt box shack.

An Urban Planner looks at the MK Main Street USA – Part 2

by on May 27, 2009

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Sam Gennaway, an Urban Planner who runs the fantastic SamLand’s Disney Adventures blog. This is part two of the INTRODUCTION TO THE URBAN DESIGN SERIES of posts he’ll be contributing here. Sam visits Disneyland on a frequent basis and toured with the Unofficial Guide team on our recent Disneyland Trip. You can also follow Sam on twitter: @samlanddisney

For me, urban design is the process of creating places and policies that lead to environments that are alive, respect people, and have meaning.

This series is where my interest in the Disney parks collides with my professional curiosity as an urban planner.

Why does entering the Magic Kingdom quickly allow us to shake off the outside world and feel safe and comfortable and allow us to play? Marty Sklar, a 53-year veteran of Walt Disney Imagineering, described this phenomenon as the “architecture of reassurance”. To really see how this works, there is no better example than Main Street USA.

To start I have to put on a different pair of eyes. Today I will don a pair that allows me to see the park as a virtual reality experience. A three dimensional cinematic event. Since Walt Disney and many of the original Imagineers came from the movie industry, it was natural that the dimensional planning would reflect that passion and knowledge and use many of the same tricks.

I have learned one more thing that has helped me understand why this whole thing works. This place is the world’s largest scale model train set. Walt’s passion for all things train and transportation is legendary.

The lessons learned by the Imagineers at Disneyland were applied at the Magic Kingdom to improve many parts of the “show”. By remembering how to use patterns like quality, variety, and surprise as organizing principles you can feel that special thing even before you get to the main gate.

It starts with Cinderella Castle. Or at least the spires. Like a marquee on a movie theater, the spires of the castle beckon you from a distance. This 189 foot tall castle is so tall that it is visible for miles. As with most things, there is a reason for this.

Those early visitors to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (pre-EPCOT Center) had to drive a long empty undeveloped 6 miles from the freeway to the reach the parking lot. The height of the castle is visible for much of the drive and provides a comforting reassurance to visitors that there really was a theme park waiting not too far away.

Notice that you can see the spires while driving but you cannot see the entire castle. Like a movie, first you get the long shot to set the scene. The close ups will come later. The Imagineers wanted to heighten the guests’ anticipation and took advantage of the journey to the park to do just that.

Let’s compare Disneyland before the construction of Disney’s California Adventure with the Magic Kingdom of 1971. At Disneyland, guests would drive right up to the front gate. Oh sure, sometimes you were parked so far from the front gate you felt you were in Garden Grove. But the tram was always nearby and that put you right there.

It was all too jarring. There was no transition from the real world to the magical world beyond the gates. Walt hated that. At Walt Disney World it would be different. He had the land.
You are not within walking distance of the front gate. In fact there is no legal way to walk to the Magic Kingdom from the main parking lot. You are over a mile away. With a huge lake. Alligators. Disney security.

So those who drove park their cars at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). Already you are confronted with a choice you don’t confront in most everyday situations. Do we take the ferryboat or the sleek monorail?

Even the resort buses have a magical moment courtesy of Admiral Joe Fowler, the construction genius for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. As the bus gets closer to the Contemporary you will notice how the road dips below a viaduct. Pay attention because sometimes you will see the ferry from the Wilderness Lodge passing overhead. The road goes below the connection between Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. They skirt around the lagoon and drop you off in an exclusive area to the side.

Remember this is a cinematic experience. From the parking lot, the train depot is way off in the distance, much like the long shot typically used as the first shot in a movie. The ferry or the monorail takes you closer in the same way that camera pans from a long shot to a medium shot. You know you have arrived when you get the close up of the train depot.

When you go to the movies you entry through the lobby. The entrance plaza is the Magic Kingdom’s lobby. The train depot is the Marquee. You hand your ticket over to the cast member and enter the main part of the lobby. Look down at the red bricks. Those bricks simulate the movie theater’s red carpet.

The train station is meant to block your view of everything behind. The Imagineers have controlled what you can see and when you can see it. This allows them to allow for the story to unfold at their pace.

On Monday I will take you under the railroad tracks and on to Main Street USA.

WDW Today Episode 570 – Listener Questions

by on May 27, 2009

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Episode 570 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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WDW Today Episode 569 – When You Gotta Go…..

by on May 25, 2009

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Episode 569 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today: In USAToday

by on May 25, 2009

Bob Sehlinger was quoted and our Least-Expensive Ticket Calculator was highlighted in today’s USAToday article entitled “Disney on a dime: Yes, Mouseketeers, you can do it.”

Disney World Car Rental Advice For The Rest Of 2009

by on May 24, 2009

If you take a look at the taxes and other fees you’re billed when you rent a car at an airport, you might wonder whether a better deal might be available offsite, where many of the extra charges do not apply. In cities such as Las Vegas, for example, rentals are often less expensive at some of the larger hotels, which generally have at least one full-service office of a national brand on-site. Our research team set out to determine whether similar deals could be found in the Orlando market off airport property.

As in past years, we began by obtaining quotes from the Web sites of all the car rental companies in the Orlando airport-for economy cars, midsize vehicles, and minivans-for Saturday-to-Saturday one-week rentals during every month from June through December, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. We also got quotes for companies located near the airport, at major hotels around International Drive, and on Disney property-more than 300 quotes in all. To get the very best prices, we also used car-rental discount codes available at

Although there are more than two dozen combinations of car rental companies and locations around Walt Disney World, our research indicates you’ll only need to look at three to find the best car deals:

1)  Start with at the Orlando airport (MCO) using discount code KISS2.  Dollar’s airport location has the cheapest prices about 2/3rds of the time.

2)  Next, check prices at their airport location (no discount code needed).  You’ll have to take an airport shuttle to get to Enterprise but it may be worth as much as $150 in savings to do so.  Enterprise has had the cheapest rates for Thanksgiving and Christmas over the past couple of years.

3)  If getting the absolute rock-bottom price is critical, check‘s Walt Disney World Dolphin location with discount code 5000304.  During the July 4 and Columbus Day holidays their economy car and minivan prices can be $180 less than the best airport prices.  Even factoring in $100 for a round-trip cab ride it’s still the best deal around.

Except for certain holidays (see above), renting a car at the Orlando airport is always cheaper for than offsite locations.  Most likely, competition among on-site agencies keeps prices at the airport low-it’s difficult to charge significantly more than a competitor when that competitor is 20 feet away and smiling at your customers! Off-site car rental locations, on the other hand, typically have little nearby competition, so they can charge higher rates.

For families, whatever markdowns may be available off-site may not be  worth the cab fare and hassle of shuttling kids and luggage back and forth. But if you’re staying at a hotel with a car-rental office, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask about specials for guests.

An Urban Planner looks at the Magic Kingdom – Part 1

by on May 23, 2009

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Sam Gennaway, an Urban Planner who runs the fantastic SamLand’s Disney Adventures blog. This is part one of the INTRODUCTION TO THE URBAN DESIGN SERIES of posts he’ll be contributing here. Sam visits Disneyland on a frequent basis and toured with the Unofficial Guide team on our recent Disneyland Trip.

Early in my education as a urban planner, I was taught that urban design is the process of creating places and policies that lead to environments that are alive, respect people, and have meaning.

My professional curiosity makes me wonder how you create a design policy structure that leads to places that exceed in their performance to the relationship of their purpose? My simple brain has wrapped itself around three things to look for – Quality, Variety and Surprise.

One way to describe what I mean is to compare urban planning to preparing a gourmet meal. My wife is a splendid cook and I have learned if you want to succeed you can improve the odds with three things: a great recipe, quality ingredients, and some talent at cooking. When you possess all three you can create something truly special and memorable.

For the urban designer, a great recipe begins with a vision, a purpose, and strong guiding principles. These become the foundation of a good plan. The guiding principles, or backstory in theme park nomenclature, tie all of the design details together.

The ingredients used in a meal include all sorts of the same stuff. Salt, pepper, saffron, capers, bay leaf, and the other usual suspects. You use certain things at certain times because they give you certain results. I have learned that in design there are patterns or a design vocabulary that does the same sort of thing.Patterns are the solutions to problems that reoccur over and over again in our built environment. Learning about these patterns and applying the properly is what keeps urban designers busy.

Other ingredients include the blend of all sorts of materials, technology, showmanship, and magic that embellishes and enhances the story.

Talent is the ability of the urban designer to rise above the ordinary. This talent is rare and that is why there are so few special places within our urban environment.

So does it take years of training to recognize good urban design from bad? Not really. You just have to remember to think about it as you look around. The average person may struggle in the way they describe what they see but in their heart and heads they know what works and what does not work. For the people I work with, this is the excitement and challenge for us as urban designers – exceeding people’s expectations.

Urban designers have been influenced by World’s Fairs and theme parks going back to the London Great Exhibition of 1851. The biggest influence was the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Walt Disney’s father was a carpenter and work on this project before Walt was born. The Civic Centers of Pasadena, Indianapolis, Washington DC, San Francisco and dozens of other cities owe a debt to that fair.

Are there differences in designing theme parks versus urban design in the real world? You bet. The successful and dynamic urban environments outside the theme park gates work because there is, as Robert Venturi once said, a “messy vitality over obvious unity.” This is important to supporting what Jane Jacobs described as “the city as organized complexity”. This is what makes the real world work.

John Hench, who spent more than 60 years working for the Walt Disney Company, stated that the goal of the theme park designer is different. He said that the job of designing theme parks is to eliminate visual contradictions. These visual contradictions are the active clutter that you see in the real world, which creates mixed messages, sets up conflicts, creates tension, and may even feel threatening. Marty Sklar, another long time Walt Disney Company executive describes it as the “architecture of reassurance”.

Removing visual contradictions reminds me of a Walt Disney story. One day, while he was making his usual rounds at Disneyland, Walt spotted a guy dressed in a spacesuit walking from the backstage area through Frontierland on his way to Tomorrowland. That is a visual contradiction of the first order!

Disney Imagineers have integrated lessons learned from Disneyland into every theme park they’ve built. Throughout articles on this blog, I will point out some of the significant design patterns and details that you will see along the way.

Starting next week, I will be taking a tour of the Magic Kingdom, land by land. First stop: the arrival experience and Main Street USA.

WDW Today Episode 568 – 2009 Disney Moms Panel

by on May 22, 2009

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Episode 568 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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