Archive for October, 2009

WDW Today Episode 634- Short Vs. Long

by on October 23, 2009

wdwtoday logo

Episode 634 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Guest Post: Disneyland Halloween Trip Report

by on October 21, 2009

This is a guest post written by Dave Breiland, co-host of the Mousetalgia! Disney Podcast. You can subscribe the Mousetalgia! podcast on iTunes, and can also listen to an episode that features! The Halloween overlays at Disneyland have attracted impressive crowds to the Disneyland Resort. Dave visited this weekend (10/17-10/18).

This past weekend, my wife, sister-in-law and I were able to head down to Disneyland for the Halloween Time. We were excited to see all of the decorations and the special attractions for the season. We used some tips from Henry and were able to be very successful! At park opening we went straight to Ghost Galaxy and, before getting in the standby-line, we quick grabbed fastpasses. After “walking-on” to Ghost Galaxy, we went over to Haunted Mansion Holiday for another short line.

Ghost Galaxy was good, but I felt as if only a couple of the effects really worked well. I am hoping that they will be able to improve upon it in the coming years. We went on the ride 3 times, and I really didn’t feel as if I needed to go on it anymore this season. I would agree with others who have said it is not little kid appropriate. Overall, the original Space Mountain attraction is much more enjoyable, especially for the entire family.

The Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay was similar to previous years. I didn’t really notice anything too different or added. My favorite part of Haunted Mansion Holiday is always the gingerbread house! How can they not be selling you gingerbread cookies at the exit? We rode the attraction twice. The first time through it stopped several times, ruining the magic of the storyline. The second ride through the first half of the narration was 15-20 seconds ahead of the ride. Hopefully it runs a smoother than this normally.

Our favorite part of the Halloween festivities was the fireworks show! The Halloween fireworks show was REALLY well done. We stood between the Coca-Cola Refreshment Corner and the hub on Main St and had a great view. Be aware that they project onto a balloon, on the left side of the castle and it may be difficult to see through the trees and other obstacles. Try to aim for the right-side of Main St, to make sure you can see the whole show. I would highly recommend staking a claim an hour before the show, to get a good spot for the fireworks!

WDW Today Episode 633 – Listener Questions

by on October 21, 2009

wdwtoday logo

Episode 633 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Urban Design and The Epcot Arrival Experience – Part 2

by on October 20, 2009

Not long ago, I was privileged to be a guest on the world famous WDW Today Podcast. I get my WDW news fix three times a week from Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. The show topic was the design behind the arrival experience at each of the 4 parks. Making a great first impression is one of the hallmarks of the Disney parks. So let’s try and get into the head of the Imagineers and figure out why each entrance is unique but distinctly Disney.

Yesterday I started to describe the Epcot arrival experience and why it was designed to make a different type of statement than the Magic Kingdom.

Spaceship Earth is an amazing structure. The structure was influenced by a number of icons from World’s Fairs past. The 1939 New York World’s Fair featured an obelisk called the Trylon and a spherical building called the Perisphere. The Unisphere from the 1964-1965 was certainly an influence. Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome for the US Pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo is a direct forerunner.

So to make a statement, the Imagineers decided to do Buckminster Fuller one better. They were going to take his dome and create a complete sphere. This engineering feat had never been done before.

The first hurdle was to figure out how to build a sphere. The solution was to build the structure in three parts. The first structure was a structural table with six pylons sunk 120 to 185 feet into the ground. On top of this table is a geodesic dome. Hanging upside down from the table’s edge is another dome. The combination makes up the sphere.

The skin of the sphere is made up of two structures. There is an inner skin that contains the ride. Suspended by a two foot gap is an outer skin. Between the two skins is a sophisticated drainage system that channels storm water run off out to the lagoon.

The sphere stands 180 feet tall and 165 feet in diameter. It took 1,700 tons of steel to build the superstructure. The outer skin is made up of 954 custom fitted triangular Alucobond panels. Alucobond is made up of two anodized aluminum faces and a polyethylene core. The result is a lightweight, extremely strong outer skin that is smoother than glass and self-cleaning.

Spaceship Earth is visible from miles around. I look for it when I am flying in or out of Orlando. I have learned to sit on the right side of the plane from Los Angeles. The sphere’s simplicity, good form, and the alternating repetition of the skin has created a structure unlike any other. The surface is ever changing in color and texture. The weather and time of the day are reflected upon its surface. It’s beautiful.

From a distance it appears as a clean white globe. Move closer and the articulation of the surface from the Alucobond panels creates an oscillation that enlivens the surface. Step into the plaza in front or pass underneath and you are humbled by its sheer scale.

Once you exit the parking tram, leave the bus stop or walk down the monorail ramp you will enter a public realm that is at a very much at the human scale. The landscaping creates a human-scaled park-like environment. The service buildings outside the gate are timeless, clean and modern. The emphasis is on the horizontal. The Monorail platform is horizontal as are the low overhangs of the ticket booths and the entry gates. Everything outside the gates reinforces this intimate scale.

Then there is that magical moment, that moment when your apprehension fades away and you feel awe and delight as pass through the entry gates. Once you pass under the entry gate shelters, the roof pulls away, the buildings to the side force you to focus straight ahead and the shear-curved wall of Spaceship Earth defines the space. The buildings on both sides and the extensive entry gate structure help to form a large outdoor room. But it is Spaceship Earth that is focus.

The Imagineers wanted to do more than create a structure with a visual impact. They wanted something that could strike an emotional impact. They used the size of the structure to make that connection. From the deck to the bottom of the sphere is only 18 feet. It feels so close you want to jump up and tap the bottom. The planters, buildings, and the little shops adjacent to the loading are for the ride funnel visitors under the globe. All must pass beneath and be humbled by how small we are and how big the world can be.

I know the initial concept for this article was to suggest that the Imagineers were trying to pioneer a completely new kind of theme park and to make it as different from Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom as they could. However, both parks actually share more qualities then they are different.

Both parks force the visitors to share a common experience before they go on to their adventures. At the Magic Kingdom you have to pass through Main Street. At Epcot you have to pass under Spaceship Earth.

Once you are pass this constricted space you are deposited into a large plaza. The Plaza Hub serves this function at the Magic Kingdom and the plaza formed by the Innoventions buildings creates a true center of Epcot. From this point you can peer through the Innoventions buildings and peer at the “wienies” that include the iconic Future World structures or continue south towards the World Showcase lagoon with the American pavilion off in the distance.

You have arrived at the “future”.

I recognize that Epcot has the rare second interest called the International Gateway. I won’t get into too much detail (my next trip is at the Boardwalk so I will get very familiar with this entrance and will report on it later). I do know that it is designed to be sympathetic with the French Pavilion inside of the park and in that respect it is very successful.model

The Bathroom Post Part I: Magic Kingdom

by on October 19, 2009

Anyone who has traveled with me knows that I have a very small bladder.  So small, in fact, that some of my favorite traveling companions call me Tinkerbell (get it?).  Needless to say I need to “powder my nose” a lot even when I’m touring Disney theme parks.  My need to use the loo so often has made me something of an expert on Disney’s bathroom offerings. Do I need a park map to tell me where the nearest lady’s room is?  Never.  Give me any attraction and I can tell you the closest one.  I go so often that when I can’t join my usual crew in the parks they text me pictures of entrances to restrooms around the parks and I can identify them without a problem.  Hey, everyone’s got to have a special talent… this just happens to be mine.

So I’ve decided to make the best of the situation and write about some of my favorite and not so favorite rest rooms throughout Walt Disney World. Here at the Unofficial Guide we like to be prepared for all aspects of a WDW vacation so bathrooms shouldn’t be overlooked!  Everyone’s got to go so why not know which bathrooms are best? First, I’ll cover the four main parks with an entry for each and we’ll see where I go from there.  So without further ado let’s start with the Magic Kingdom:


Main Street near Town Hall – I like this one because its the first stop after arriving to the park.  I always have to make a pit stop after making the trip into MK and the morning coffee never helps this situation.  Its huge so there is never a queue, and usually well kept.  An added bonus is that there are plenty of shady spots for my friends to wait or they can dash into Town Hall or the Emporium until my business is done.

Tomorrowland near Space Mountain – I’m not sure what it is but I always have to go after the very bumpy Space Mountain.  I was very worried it would disappear with the old Skyway building.  But, alas, my fears have been put to rest and they are remodeling it.

Between Main Street and Tomorrowland near the Noodle Station – It doesn’t seem like a lot of people know this one exists so its always clean and quite and is an essential stop before settling in for Wishes.

Adventureland near Pirates – Conveniently located near the exit of Pirates makes stopping off here before the next attraction quick and easy.

Least Favorites:

Between Adventureland and Frontierland – This one’s not always the cleanest since its in a busy spot.  You’re better of heading to Peco’s Bills or the ones near Pirates of the Caribbean.

Mixed Reviews:

Fantasyland near Peter Pan’s Flight: I like that they are labeled as Princes and Princesses (I’m a sucker for good theming), but they are very busy and often the custodial CMs can’t keep up.

Is it strange that I have so many favorites?  So what are your favorite bathrooms?  You know you have some.

Next week, in the spirit of baseball playoffs (Go Yankees!), football season, and whatever other sports you might enjoy, I’ll take a look at a great place to grab a beer and watch the big game…

Update: Check out the next chapter in the series: Epcot

Ultimate Disneyland Touring Plan Attempt; Disneyland Meetup Reminder

by on October 19, 2009

Extreme Touring has been on my mind the last couple of weeks, ever since members of the west coast division of the Unofficial Guide Research Team (myself, researchers Kate & Kelsey), decided to lay plans on attempting the first ever Ultimate Disneyland Touring Plan. We’re going to try to experience every attraction, show, parade and firework show in Disneyland in one day. Highlights of the plan also include a mandatory 15 minute stay on Tom Sawyer’s Island (complete with visit to Pirate’s Lair), games at both the Frontierland Shootin’ Exposition and Starcade, and one meet & greet at the Disney Princess Fantasy Faire.

We’re hardly the first to attempts feats of touring inside Disneyland; MiceChat has annually holds a Gumball Rally among many others. But after my first Ultimate MK attempt in August, I caught the bug (researcher Kelsey is also an Ultimate MK veteran). We as a team got together and produced an alpha version of Ultimate Disneyland Touring Plan that we’re eager to try it out this Saturday. We’ll then post our results on the blog and make the plan publicly available. But to make it truly exciting, we’re going to livestreaming the heck out of this event: there will be tweets, photos, a site to track our progress, as well as the occasional live video (until the last breath of our phone batteries!). Live Coverage will begin this Saturday at 6am PT and last (hopefully) until 12am PT.

Disneyland in some ways is more challenging than the Magic Kingdom as far as touring goes. While smaller in size, it contains way more headliner attractions with lengthy queues: Indiana Jones Adventure, Matterhorn, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Roger Rabbit Cartoon Spin, among others. It also simply has more attractions–our current official number stands at ~58 compared to ~52 in the Magic Kingdom (depending on what’s open and which shows are being performed). One positive is that Disneyland comparatively has fewer continuous and set-time shows (MK has Philharmagic, Hall of Presidents, Country Bear Jamboree, Laugh Floor, Castle Shows, Storytime With Belle, an afternoon parade–all of which don’t have Disneyland equivalents). Fewer shows mean that the morning/midday time can be spent on rides, instead of being broken up by showtimes. And don’t get me started on continuous shows; it’s very hard to get the timing right on shows that start every 12.5 minutes.

We couldn’t be doing this at a worsebetter time of year, with the parks being consisitently packed in October due to the holiday overlays at Space Mountain and Haunted Mansion. We had reports of 70-110 minutes wait times in the early evening at Ghost Galaxy this weekend, with similarly lengthy queues at Haunted Mansion. One trick we have up our sleeve is entry into Morning Magic Hour (see Sam Gennaway’s great report here), which will give us access to the park from 7am to 12am for a whopping 17 hours of park operation!

Lastly–we’re having a Meetup on Friday, October 23rd at 6:30pm at the Rancho del Zocalo Restaurant inside Disneyland!! It’s a great place to grab a bite and very easy to find (AP holders: Friday has no blackouts). Crispy Chips con Lemon to those who make it out and for your best advice about how to survive this ridiculous plan.

Want to give an Ultimate Touring Plan a go? Read more here

Thanks to Don Solo for the image

Urban Design and Epcot Arrival Experience – pt. 1

by on October 19, 2009

spaceship earthHello.  Sam from SamLand’s Disney Adventures.  For the next few weeks I will be looking at the design behind the arrival experience at the various parks.  Not long ago, I was privileged to be a guest on the world famous WDW Today Podcast. I get my WDW news fix three times a week from Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. The show topic was the design behind the arrival experience at each of the 4 parks. Making a great first impression is one of the hallmarks of the Disney parks. So let’s try and get into the head of the Imagineers and figure out why each entrance is unique but distinctly Disney.
It is a well-known fact that Walt Disney didn’t like sequels. After the huge success of Three Little Pigs, theaters were clamoring for a sequel but Walt hesitated. He even said, “You can’t top pigs, with pigs.” But he also knew he had a growing studio to support and this could be a great way to raise the money needed for Snow White. So did the sequels.

Thirty years later Walt found himself in the same place. He used the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair as a test to see if Disneyland style entertainment would work on the East Coast. The results were a box office smash. Now that Walt knew that the “sophisticated” people of the East Coast would accept his brand of entertainment. With this knowledge, he knew he had the sequel would be the money making machine that would fund what he really wanted to build – EPCOT – the city of the future.

Sadly, Walt passed away before any of his most ambitious dreams could be realize. Roy Disney, near retirement, decided to stay and to make sense of Walt’s ideas and to create something he would be proud of. He wanted the world to whose dream it was and renamed the project Walt Disney World.

In the first phase, they built the Magic Kingdom, three resorts, a multi-mode transportation network, and all of the infrastructure to turn wetlands into a small city. They applied many lessons learned in the operation of Disneyland to facilitate guest comfort and high capacity. The hotels and the monorail plus the other resort infrastructure would be just the way Walt would have wanted. Now came the real challenge. How to build EPCOT. What to do next?

The Magic Kingdom was an updated Disneyland. I will be writing about that experience on November 9. This new park had to be just that, new. It had to be different than the Magic Kingdom. That is a lot of pressure.

So the popular story is that Imagineers John Hench and Marty Sklar pushed two models of two separate projects together – Future World plus a permanent Worlds Fair called the World Showcase. They turned the two projects into one massive 260-acre park. More than twice as large as the Magic Kingdom and three times as large as Disneyland.

The gateway would perform the same function as that for the entrance at the Magic Kingdom. The portal becomes a time machine. To illustrate my point, you might recall that at the Magic Kingdom you pass below the railroad tracks and enter an idealistic American town around 1900. The tunnel is like a time machine. At Epcot, no matter how you arrived, whether it be by auto, bus, or monorail; you always entered into the future.

Everybody passes under the unifying theme element – Spaceship Earth and they share that experience as a community. People are entering a park that celebrates our interdependence between our minds, body and Earth. The front half of the figure eight shaped park would teach us about the past and anticipate the future. The back half would celebrate the cultures of the world.

The Monorail is also part of the show. As guests arrive to via the Monorail, they would get an eye in the sky preview of the park. It creates the perfect first impression of this future world. The Monorail was novelty at Disneyland but it would become truly the transportation system of the future and critical to the success of the resort. In the Imagineering Guide to Epcot the authors state that, “It’s no accident that the monorail passes right through the heart of this park. This connection not only transfers riders from the Transportation and ticket center, but also gives them an overview of the Park on their way in. And it provides additional show value and kinetics for those already there”.

At the Magic Kingdom you never get a full look at Cinderella Castle until you are well into the park. Epcot would be different. Spaceship Earth would be right at the front of the park. Like the Castle park, the geosphere would act as a beacon, become the center of attention, and a point of orientation. The familiar shape, the oscillating pattern from the texture of the tiles, and the way the structure captures the light and changes throughout the day set the tone for your adventure that lies ahead.

There is so much more and we will continue this journey tomorrow.

WDW Today Episode 632 – The Story Behind The Story

by on October 19, 2009

wdwtoday logo

Episode 632 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

The Unofficial Guide’s Take On The Fantasyland Expansion

by on October 17, 2009

We’re working on a new WDW book and I got the task of updating our Fantasyland coverage to include the new expansion announced at D23. Maybe it’s the coffee I’m drinking, but rather than just recite from the press release, I re-imagined the story as a coup d’etat by the princesses against Mickey and Minnie. The text is below. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Vive La Revolution

Compared to Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, the Magic Kingdom’s version of Fantasyland was far smaller in both size and scope. We’ve not thought much of it, but apparently it had been a source of discontent for Disney World’s princess population for quite some time. In 2009, the princesses, led by Cinderella and Ariel, led a revolution against the established character aristocracy that resulted in the biggest land grab in Magic Kingdom history. With a small but fabulously-dressed army of princesses and fairies, Cinderella and Ariel claimed a huge chunk of undeveloped land outside of Fantasyland, while their forest-animal followers stormed Toontown. It was all over in a matter of hours, when Mickey and Minnie fled their country houses for exile on Main Street. If there is any doubt about who wields power in the Magic Kingdom, one only need look now at who’s got the castle and controls the most land.

Soon after claiming control, Cinderella began divvying up the spoils of war. Ariel, who served as Cindy’s consigliere during the coup, was rewarded with a new ride-through attraction using the story and characters from Disney’s The Little Mermaid film. Belle, who led the storming of France (not technically part of the Magic Kingdom, but still on any reasonably complete invasion checklist) got her own character greeting area. In addition, Belle’s old country pal Gaston muscled in on the restaurant business in Fantasyland. We hear he’s opening up a new place that’ll serve fast food to the masses at lunch and convert to pricey sit-down meals for dinner. It’s sure to be a hit – no one eats or drinks like Gaston.

Princess Aurora, who kept the trains running on schedule (and the rest of the characters at bay) during the revolution, gets a dedicated greeting area themed after her village home, and has announced plans to re-do the Toontown train station into Fantasyland decor. The Tinker Belle-led fighting fairies also get their own meet-and-greet location, dubbed “Pixie Hollow,” as well as a play area that will double as an obstacle course training ground for the new Cinderella Youth Brigade after the park closes.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant, once part of Mickey’s inner circle, proved to be an agent working for Cinderella. The reward for his treachery is a second Dumbo attraction – a clone of the first – in what was ironically Mickey’s old property. We hear Dumbo will also get a new interactive queue and waiting area.

Donald Duck, who used to store his boat in Toontown across from Mickey’s house, hasn’t been heard from since the revolt. We’re pretty sure his ship’s bell has rung for the last time, if you know what we mean. The only Toontown attraction that appears to have been spared is The Barnstormer at Goofy’s Wiseacres Farm. Said Goofy, “Hey, I’m just excited to be part of Cinderella’s plans. She’s a visionary, you know. That stuff with Mickey, it was just business.”

Food and Wine Festival

by on October 16, 2009

I experienced my first Food and Wine Festival at Epcot last year.  I was really excited to check it off my Disney dork to do list.  We had a a lot of fun wandering around World Showcase sipping and snacking.  There was no way we could do it all so we took a look at the list and decided which things we really wanted to try (a strategy I highly recommend).  I had a great time, but I wasn’t prepared for the cost!  It was pretty expensive for a small sampling of regional cuisine.  To make a day out of grazing around the lagoon would have been quite expensive.  I also didn’t realize just how busy this event could be.  There were a few items I passed up simply because I didn’t want to wait on the long queue.  Unfortunately, I won’t make it down this year for this event.  But, from what I’ve been reading in the online Disney geek community,  it seems that people are really enjoying themselves.

This year the festival runs from September 25 – November 8 and features cities from around the world.  The are approximately 25 booths serving sample-sized portions of international delicacies from six continents.  Epcot will celebrate the fare of cities ranging from Athens to Buenos Aires to Tokyo.  Many guest favorites are returning to the festival with a few new selections; Bangkok Rio de Janiero are making their debut in 2009.  Guests will also find kiosks and exibits on the World Showcase promenade featuring art, entertainment, and crafts from several destinations.

In addition to sampling international cuisine and libations there are several special events to attend throughout the seven week run.
The Eat to the Beat concerts in the American Gardens Theater at the American Adventure are free with the cost of your park ticket.  Musical acts this year include: Better than Ezra, Boyz II Men, Jon Secada, Kool and the Gang, and En Vogue to name a few.  There are also several other special demonstrations, tastings, and parties offered during the festival.  Many of demonstrations and seminars are free, such as the History of Beer, but others cost a small fee and should be booked in advance.  Disney refers to their more expensive lectures and parties as “Special Festival Experiences” and these fill up fast.    Several celebrity chefs are set to appear this year at many of these “special experiences” including one of the newest members of the Disney family, Cat Kora.  Though I’ve never taken part in any of these I’ve heard nothing but good things about them.

Have you toured this year’s offerings?  If so, please let me know what you thought!  If I hear lots of positive feedback maybe I’ll get back down for it next year.

Next time I’ll take a look at some very important locations at the Magic Kingdom…