Archive for June, 2009

Urban Design: Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland Part 2

by on June 14, 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 five 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.

Time to complete our journey through the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. For more fun Disney stuff I invite you to visit and see more about the design, history and touring tips for the North American parks.

My philosophy is that Urban Design is the process of creating places and policies that lead to environments that are alive, respect people, and have meaning. When the designer gets it right, that place exceeds in its performance to the relationship of its purpose. This series is where my interest in the Disney parks collides with my professional curiosity as an urban planner.

Last week we walked from the Hub and entered Adventureland. Today we will continue our journey with the hopes that we will be safe from singing birds, spitting camels, lions, tigers, and…well I guess there are no bears. But trust me, they are really, really close.

Once over the bridge, the path through Adventureland turns and meanders. You have buildings framing one side and the jungle and the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse defining the other side. The use of forced perspective is used effectively throughout this area and really adds to mood.

To show you how concerned the Imagineers are with the details, a popular story in some of the books is how they dealt with what could be a visual contradiction of major proportions.

There is a tower on the building with the miserable Tiki Room show. At the top are heads of water buffaloes. This tower is also visible from Frontierland. From that side the heads appear to be bison and the primitive structure looks like something from the western plains. Very clever.

Through Disney magic you make your way out of the jungle and land in an Arabian Bazaar. At the center of this sub-district is the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. This Dumbo clone acts as a strong center element and is nicely supported by the little storefronts. The attraction is also a clever way to reuse old stuff. The camels spitting water are leftovers from a parade.

Your journey continues as we past by the Jungle Cruise. I like how the grade change between the main path as you head toward Pirates and the way to the Jungle Cruise makes the Family Swiss Robinson Treehouse look even more impressive. The lower level area also creates a well-defined and well themed waiting area for a very popular attraction.

But it is time to move along. And up ahead would be another wienie – the fortress from the Spanish Main. The plants go from being unrestrained to a more formal organization within planters. I have read many accounts on line to suggest this area has change greatly over the years. It sounds like the area was even more successful.

I do know that the whole Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom were an after thought. They didn’t plan on having this attraction in Florida. However, the demand was so strong after the opening of the park they caved in and killed what could have been a monumental attraction – Thunder Mesa and The Western River Expedition – and installed the Reader’s Digest version of Pirates of the Caribbean.

The plaza in front of Pirates of the Caribbean is consistent with the traditional element in most towns created during the great age of Spanish exploration. The Plaza is all hardscape holding back the jungle and sets the mood for the attraction. It also provides the functional benefit of comfortable and ample space for the queue.

Beyond Pirates is another clever example of that cinematic cross dissolve effect that creates a transformation from one themed land to another that we saw as we entered Adventureland.

Keep an eye on the buildings to your right on your way to Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. On the northwest side (Adventureland), the buildings reflect the Spanish architectural style found throughout the Caribbean. On the southwest side (Frontierland), the designers use the same architectural typological vocabulary and reinterprets them as Spanish influenced buildings that were typical of the America Southwest during the 1850s.

This use of accurate details may seem excessive but it achieves the “plausible impossible” and created the equivalent of a cross-dissolve transition from the jungles of Adventureland to the deserts of the American west. There are no visual contradictions that would spoil your journey.

Coming soon will be American history told in three dimensions Disney style – from Liberty Square to Frontierland.

Honey, Where Are We Eating Tomorrow? How Far in Advance to Book Dining Reservations at Theme Park Restaurants

by on June 14, 2009

Walt Disney World has not been immune from the U.S. recession.  In-park merchandise sales have slowed, and high-end resort bookings are lagging.  And while park attendance hasn’t suffered all that much, Disney executives have noticed that people are more likely than before to book last-minute trips to Orlando.   Trips that might have been booked six months or more in advance during better times are now being booked six weeks out, and more frequently than ever within 14 to 30 days.

The Unofficial Guide staff noticed this pattern early In 2009, when we began receiving emails asking for recommendations for good park sit-down restaurants that families could book within 30 days of their trip.  Using dozens of volunteers with free long-distance phone plans, and access to the online Advance Dining Reservation system used by Disney travel agents, we began building profiles of each theme park restaurant, showing how many days in advance (on average) that restaurant filled up for various meals.

To check availability, we asked Disney’s systems for a table for four people at each restaurant.  Our dining times were 8 am for breakfast, noon for lunch and 6 pm for dinner, give or take 45 minutes either way.  (That is, if we ask for a 6 pm reservation at Tusker House and Disney told us that 6:15 pm was available, we counted that as “available.”)  We also measured breakfast and lunch availability for locations serving those meals. We surveyed each restaurant for a week, with our 90-day reservation window extending through Labor Day 2009.  Our results are shown in the chart below.  All meals are dinner unless otherwise noted.

ADR Lead Times for June 2009

Not surprisingly, you’ll need to book  Canada’s Le Cellier steakhouse a full 90 days in advance.  Le Cellier consistently gets top marks from our readers and demand for tables far exceeds supply.  Interestingly, however, Epcot’s Coral Reef restaurant also requires dining reservations about 90 days in advance, too.  While our readers (and dining critics) don’t give Coral Reef’s food particularly high marks, Coral Reef’s popularity might be explained by noting that it is one of the few non-ethnic sit-down restaurants in Epcot, it has relatively few tables, and it’s the only dedicated seafood restaurant in any Walt Disney World park.

Slightly farther down the list, the Magic Kingdom’s three Cinderella meals all generally need to be booked within 80 to 85 days of your trip.  Breakfast here used to be the hottest ticket in the parks, but price increases and additional capacity at lunch and dinner have made tables much easier to get.  Rounding out the list of most popular dining locations is the Crystal Palace’s character breakfast, the surprisingly good Tusker House character breakfast and dinner at the Garden Grill.

It’s possible to snag reservations at Germany’s Biergarten buffet within three weeks of your trip, which is surprising because it’s well-regarded by both our dining reviewer and readers. Tutto Italia, which was exceedingly difficult to get into when it was L’ Originale Alfredo’s di Roma, now requires less than a month of lead time to reserve.

A couple of notable restaurants appear toward the bottom of the list, meaning it’s possible to get a prime-time dining reservation at these locations within a ten days of your trip.   When the characters left Liberty Tree Tavern, for example, so did the customers.  (We wouldn’t be surprised to see the characters return.)  Also good for last-minute reservations are Epcot’s Bistro de Paris, Tokyo Dining and Restaurant Marakkesh.   In fact, these are some of the restaurants we’ll try for walk-up reservations when we’re doing in-park research and haven’t made other plans.

Bringing up the rear is World Showcase’s Nine Dragons, at the China pavilion, and most of the sit-down restaurants at the Animal Kingdom.  Nine Dragons may be one of the most disappointing restaurants in all of Walt Disney World, with expensive, uninspired food.  Regarding the Animal Kingdom’s diners, we think this is less a statement about the restaurants than it is a comment that people don’t need to hang around until dinner to see the entire park.  As attractions (and hopefully some nighttime entertainment) are added to the Animal Kingdom, dining reservations may be more difficult to get.

photo by IceNineJon

WDW Today Episode 577 – Lead Times

by on June 12, 2009

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Episode 577 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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A Very, Very Last Minute Trip to Walt Disney World

by on June 11, 2009

I have written many times that most of my trips to Walt Disney World are last minute.  Well, this is the mother of  last minute trips for even me.  I found out today that I get to go to my favorite place in the world on Sunday. Yes, the Sunday in 3 days. 

I got on the Internet to book a room and guess what?  There’s little availability.  I didn’t want to break the bank on this trip.  I would have been thrilled  to stay Value.  No Luck — even when I broke the 4 night trip into 2 night stays.   So, I am forced to stay Deluxe. 

I will arrive late Sunday night and enjoy a 2 night stay at the Contemporary.  In all of my trips to WDW I have never stayed here. I am ecstatic and I got a great Annual Passholder rate.  The last two nights I will stay at the Wilderness Lodge.  I know the “Unofficial Guide”  guru, Len Testa, often refers to the Wilderness Lodge as a Moderate Deluxe, I still love it.  My other options were the Beach Club and the Grand Floridian.  They were more than I wanted to pay for this last minute trip and I want to be able to go back again and again. 

I have yet to make a dining reservation, but will let you know what you can expect if you find yourself with a very, very, last minute trip to Walt Disney World.  So far so good, I have a place to rest my head and hope to have magical dreams.

Free Dining Booking Window Extended to July 26

by on June 10, 2009

The title sums it up. The booking window is from now through July 26, 2009. The travel window is for stays most nights Aug. 22 – Oct. 3, 2009.

Thanks to Sue Pisaturo of Small World Vacations for the news.

WDW Today Episode 576 – Listener Questions

by on June 10, 2009

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Episode 576 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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My Stay at the Wilderness Lodge

by on June 8, 2009

If you’ve been following the blog, you might remember that my May trip split between Pop Century and the Wilderness Lodge. I’ve stayed at Pop several times and will probably blog about it another time. Today I’d like to focus on our few days spent at the Wilderness Lodge. While I had visited WL several times, I never stayed there. I was really looking forward to spending a few nights here. I had heard mostly good reviews, and it always seemed as though this resort had a lot going for it. The public areas of the resort are beautiful. It has a beach where guests lounge in the sun during the day or watch the Electrical Water Parade in the evening. And especially appealing is the boat ferrying guests directly to the Magic Kingdom’s gate.

With all of these things in mind, I thought these few days would be a highlight of our trip. So imagine my disappointment when we had a less than Disney-like experience. Now, before I delve into the negative bits I must admit that there were some good things about our stay. Like I mentioned, the amenities and the beauty of the common spaces were enjoyable. The Cast Member who checked us in was warm, friendly, and very helpful. But that’s where the pleasantries ended. Our room was ready late and the valets were less than friendly when we unloaded the car to move it to the room. When we made the long trek to our room, we were surprised at its small size. I knew WL was originally meant to be a moderate resort, but talk about tiny. After settling in a bit we discovered small bugs in the tub, holes in the towels, and refrigerator that didn’t work very well. It took two calls to actually get someone to the room to check out the fridge. The man who came was snippy with us and told us it was our fault it wasn’t working properly. I couldn’t believe the lack of service at a deluxe resort. Without yammering on about all of the bad details I’ll just say I will never stay here again. I will visit (especially to see the lovely Christmas decorations) and enjoy the resort’s restaurant offerings, but never make another reservation.

The results for the 2009 Unofficial Guide’s Reader Survey were recently posted on our website. It’s not surprising to see the Wilderness Lodge slid in this year’s ratings and only 71% of people would recommend the resort to friends. An interesting observation about the restaurant portion of this year’s results was that people seemed to be looking at the more expensive options with a more critical lens in these economic times. People are expecting more for their money since they are doling out so much on their WDW vacations. A lot of the reader comments about these establishments are beginning with “for what I paid…” I’m sure that the same can be said of the resorts. Before this observation was even published, my friends and I said exactly that about the Wilderness Lodge. For what we paid for the room, even with a UK resident discount, we were very frustrated with it and the service.

Next week I’ll start my series on drinking around the world…

photo by StartedByAMouse

WDW Today Episode 575 – MSP3K – The Maelstrom/Spirit Of Norway

by on June 8, 2009

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Episode 575 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Crowd Calendar Updated For September

by on June 8, 2009

Disney has posted some of its schedule for September. We’ve updated our crowd calendar to reflect what they’ve posted but it is missing a lot of information. Park Hours for Disney’s Hollywood Studios and some parade information is still left out for some reason. As they add more of the information, we’ll update the calendar again.

Urban Design: Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland

by on June 7, 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 four 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

Urban Design is the process of creating places and policies that lead to environments that are alive, respect people, and have meaning.  When the designer gets it right, that place exceeds in its performance to the relationship of its purpose.  This series is where my interest in the Disney parks collides with my professional curiosity as an urban planner.

We begin this trip by transporting you from the comfort of Main Street USA to the exotic lands of Adventureland. Let’s start by taking a look around the Hub.  Imagine you are standing at the Partners statue.

One design tool used throughout the Magic Kingdom is what Disney Imagineers call the “wienie” also know at a view terminus to the rest of the design world.  A wienie is a feature placed on a distant spot to add character or to provide a memorable element as a tool for orientation.

At the Magic Kingdom, the designers continually use wienies and landscaping to set the mood.  The purpose of these icons is not only to start your imagination but also to move your feet.

For example, look deep into Tomorrowland.  Beyond the strange rocks your eyes immediately look upward at the Astro Orbiters spinning high above the TTA station. Fantasyland combines the imposing presence of the Castle with the shimmering reflections of Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel spinning through the portal.  Finally, across the Liberty Square bridge is a tower that hides the tall smokestacks of the Liberty Belle.

Of course, by now I hope you are asking “what’s the wienie for Adventureland?”  Well, none. This is the only land adjacent to the Hub that does not feature a wienie. What would an adventure be if you knew what was beyond the bridge?

Back to the movie I call a walk through the Magic Kingdom.

A common film technique that establishes the scene and provides context at the beginning of many films is the long shot.  The long shot works because your eye captures a glimpse of color and motion and soon organizes them into shapes.  Those shapes should evolve into simple storytelling icons that set the stage for what is to come later.

Adventureland’s opening shot is different then the other lands. Instead of a wienie, the designers used landscaping, typological architectural details, and a path that winds and provides only an obstructed view to heighten the suspense.  Putting you on edge even in a very friendly Disney way.  The art direction for the landscape design is recall exotic ports of call that don’t really exist except in the movies.  The area combines elements of Polynesia, Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and even an Arabian Bazaar.  The extensive plantings obscure the edges and make the land seem larger than it really is.  Adds that infinite horizon necessary for adventure.

Adventureland unfolds slowly, subtly, and gradually.

You can see this right at the entrance to Adventureland. Here you can see how the designers use the language of iconic typological architectural details to create the same effect as a cross-dissolve in a film.  In both cases, a successful application means you should experience a smooth transition from one scene (themed area) to another.

A great example of this tool is to take a close look at the Crystal Palace.  From the Hub, it appears to be a grand Victorian building modeled after historic examples like the Crystal Palace in New York, the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.  But something happens as you cross the bridge.

As you make your way across the bridge from the Hub to Adventureland and the landscape subtly transforms just like a cross dissolve shot in a movie. The organization of the architectural details and the type of plant materials change and the building begins to mimic a tropical hot house.  The Imagineers take you from small town America to the jungles of your imagination by using the complete vocabulary of Victorian architecture.

This was made easier because Victorian was the dominant style in America of the time period represented by Main Street as well as 19th Century British Colonial rule.  By combining the history of architecture, cinematic tricks, innovative use of materials, and theme appropriate landscaping, the transition and the illusion are complete.

In our next article we cross the bridge and entered the heart of Adventureland.  Before we go too far we must stock up on Dole whip. I will pick up the rest of the tour next week. Always appreciate the comments and visits to my site.