Archive for June, 2010

BETAMOUSE #21 – The Tech of Disneyland Paris

by on June 30, 2010

betamouse logoA new episode of Betamouse is out, co-hosted by developer Henry Work.

Download the episode directly or subscribe via iTunes or RSS.

Samland Visits Future World in Epcot

by on June 30, 2010

Been awhile since I was here last and it feels good to be back. Just like walking through the front gate at one of the parks. Samland is proud to be a part of the new Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World Color Companion. Isn’t time for you to buy your second copy? Samland has been revamped so that it is easier to find the articles you are looking for. I hope you get a chance to check it out.

Future World has been compared to a World’s Fair and for good reason. The basic design principles are the same. They both feature monumental pavilions with each one focused on a single concept. The pavilions are tied together by highly detailed, well-designed public spaces. To create a memorable and meaningful experience, the public spaces integrate landscaping, water, sculpture, light, motion, and scenic vistas.

When you enter Future World you are entering a time machine. The arrival experience is designed to transport you from your car, a bus or the monorail, and drop you into the future. You and your party will share the humbling experience of passing under the iconic Spaceship Earth. The bottom of this first of its kind geodesic sphere is only 18 feet from ground and feels almost close enough to touch.

The portal under Spaceship Earth funnels you into the Millennium Plaza. The Innoventions buildings create a strong boundary and frame the plaza. At the plaza’s heart is the Fountain of Nations, which was dedicated by Walt Disney’s widow Lillian in 1982.

Go left and the east side of the park is devoted to the left side of your brain. This is the home to rational, objective thought, science and math and features the themes of energy, space exploration, and mechanical engineering. The planters and pathways are geometrically shaped, rigid with sharp angles, plantings are precise and formal, and public furniture is functional and uses technology to overcome environmental challenges.

Go right and the west side is focused on the right side of your brain. This is where holistic thinking, music, the arts, and creativity thrive. The circle of life, both on the land and the sea, is celebrated in two of the pavilions. The Land pavilion pops up out of the ground as if from a split in the earth and the Seas pavilion is shaped like a wave or a huge shell. The Imagination pavilion requires you to suspend your disbelief as you pass through a magical garden and the pyramidal structures have been described as a “symphony of volumes, forms, tonal nuances.” The pathways are gently curved; the plantings are less formal, there is lots of water, and seating areas are under shady spots covered by a canopy of mature trees.

Celebrate the 4th of July with the American Adventure!

by on June 30, 2010

The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday so I thought I’d take the opportunity to highlight one of my favorite WDW attractions for the occasion.  Why do I love the 4th so much?  Well, what is better than fireworks, barbecues, summer time weather (hopefully at one of your favorite vacation spots), and patriotism?  In my opinion, it doesn’t get much better than that.  So, what attraction would fit into all of the red, white, and blue festivities?  The American Adventure at Epcot, of course!

The American Adventure is the quintessential Epcot attraction since it is both educational and entertaining.  It highlights some of America’s finest moments with a brief history lesson.  Of course, there is no way to squeeze all of a country’s history into a show at Walt Disney World, but the imagineers (the folks responsible for the creation of all WDW attractions) have done an excellent job of discussing some of biggest moments in a way sure to make every American proud to be a part of our young country’s history by show’s end.    For the cynics who criticize the show for glossing over America’s more controversial moments, it is my contention that the atmosphere in Disney World is neither the time nor place to discuss events which have marred our history.  World Showcase is a place of celebration of history and culture, and the American Adventure should not be an exception to the norm.

The American Adventure can be found in the center of Epcot’s World Showcase where t has been placed in the center of all of the action as it is meant to act as host to all of the other countries.  The exterior was built with classic Georgian style in mind.  The architecture was heavily influenced by structures such as Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  At scheduled times throughout the day (check out your times guide) the Spirit of America Drum and Fife Corp will march and play for the crowd in the pavilion’s cobblestone court yard.  Kids are invited to march with the band and seeing them enjoying themselves always makes me smile.

Inside guests will find a rotunda which often plays host to the Voices of Liberty, one of my favorite acts around the World Showcase.  I highly recommend arriving to the attraction a bit early to hear this a cappella group sing; they have been known to move me to tears.  There are also paintings throughout this area as well as inspirational quotations painted on the wall to keep guests occupied between shows.  An exhibit at the far end changes from time to time and is currently home to National Treasures a collection of artifacts highlighting a who’s who of American history including one of Abraham Lincoln’s hats

But the main attraction in this pavilion is the American Adventure show.  Guests are invited to enter the theater on the second floor.  The stairs and escalators leading to the 1,000 person theater pass through the Hall of Flags which displays every flag ever flown over the United States.  There are flags of American territories as well as each version of the stars and stripes.  Once inside the theater statues representing different aspects of the American spirit line the walls.

When the curtain rises, the show is hosted by audio-animatronic figures of Ben Franklin and Mark Twain, two prominent figures in the American past.  They take the audience through a short and sweet version of our country’s history.  Film, music, and audio-animtronic figures are used to tell America’s story in a moving and inspiring way.  After and introduction from our hosts, the show begins with the pilgrims making the long and hard journey across the Atlantic.  Guests are then taken through the trying times which come with building a new nation such as the Revolution (an animatronic George Washington on a horse at Valley Forge is pretty impressive), a Civil War, and the Great Depression.  Other aspects of the American way of life, such as the ingenuity, industry, and Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation efforts, are also celebrated along the way.

My favorite part of the show comes at the finale.  At this point a photo montage of historical figures and moments plays on a large screen while a song called “Golden Dream” plays.  Some examples of these images include the first walk on the moon, President Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King.  In 2007 images were added to the finale to include more recent events.  I often sniffle through the montage and then it’s next to impossible for me to keep back the tears when photos of New York’s finest in the days after 9/11 appear on the screen.  If that segment of the show does not make  Americans feel proud of their country, I’m not sure what will.

If history isn’t your thing, you can at least appreciate the technology behind these figures.  At one point Ben Franklin walks up a flight of stairs and Mark Twain’s cigar actually smokes.  How cool is that?!  The space needed to house attraction is so large that imagineers needed to use reverse forced perspective to make the building look smaller and not overwhelm the World Showcase landscape.  Additionally, the show scenes are lifted into view of the audience with a vast and sophisticated hydraulic system.

Guests should be aware that the show is just shy of 30 minutes long, so plan accordingly.  The American Adventure generally runs continually throughout the day every half hour or so.  Like I suggested before, you will want to plan to arrive early so you can check out some of the performances in the pavilion and maybe check out the National Treasures exhibit.  Young kids may get antsy during the show since it’s a bit lengthy, but they may also take the opportunity to take a nap in the air conditioning.

Aside from my patriotism why do I love the American Adventure so much?  I spent a school year eating, sleeping and breathing it and the Hall of Presidents for my American Studies senior honors thesis in college.  I know more about this attraction than most people would say is healthy so I’ve put it to use in this post!  The American Adventure will always hold a special place in my Disney geek heart.  Although I am an American history buff and I know there is so much more to our nation’s past, I love this short version and I think it accomplishes its goals.  The audience would be held captive for hours if the imagineers attempted to tell the whole American story!

So now that you’ve read how much I love the American Adventure I’d love to hear what you think about it!  Let me know what you think of this stirring presentation.

Next week I’ll be taking the week off to enjoy the holiday weekend with family and friends, but then I’ll be back to discuss my favorite counter service restaurants throughout Disney property.  Have a wonderful holiday everyone!

Update: Disney has just posted on their official blog that one of the 4th of July offerings in Epcot will be appearances by Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross outside the American Adventure!  The Voices of Liberty will also be doing special expanded performances for the holiday.  You can check out all of WDW’s Independence Day offerings here.

WDW Today Episode 740 – Listener Questions

by on June 29, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 740 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

WDW Today Episode 739 – Caribbean Beach Review

by on June 27, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 739 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Ultimate Touring Plans: Updated Rules and Leaderboard

by on June 25, 2010

You may have heard of these things called “Ultimate Touring Plans” — crazy, extreme touring plans that let you see everything in a Disney park in one day. And we do mean everything: all the attractions, shows, character greetings, parades and fireworks. We’ve had people, including Fred and I, attempt them during all times of the year: quiet times in January and February as well as peak days such as July 4th and December 31st. We even have a subscriber named Kenny attempting the record today with his two sons in the blistering heat!

With the help of David Davies (who shall henceforth be known as the Ultimate Touring Plans Czar), we set out to clean up and standardize the rules of Ultimate Touring and update our Hall of Fame.

You can now find out everything Ultimate at:

Congrats to the new Ultimate Touring champions Graeme and Megan McGufficke, who completed 59 attractions in 13:39 minutes on June 12! Photo Feature!

by on June 25, 2010

Happy Friday! You’ve made it to the end of the work week! To ease into the fun of the weekend, perhaps even a weekend you may be heading over to Disney World, we’re featuring some photos from our Disney Flickr Pool! Inspired by these artists? Submit your photos to the pool today and become a member!

From Flickr Photographer MichaelBonnettJr

From Flickr Photographer Jeff_Chaney

From Flickr Photographer DDindy

From Flickr Photographer TomBricker

From Flickr Photographer MVanDeusen

Amazing photos! We’d love to see some photos from the Disney resorts! Join the pool and submit some today!

WDW Today Episode 738 – Restaurant Expectations

by on June 25, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 738 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Toy Story 3 : Beyond Infinity

by on June 24, 2010

For those of you that saw Toy Story 3 already you’re probably thinking that I stole that title from the movie itself.  But the truth of the matter is that I named this article in my head last week before the movie was ever released.  I knew then that the only way the Toy Story franchise could survive a third movie would be for it to be just that, Beyond Infinity.  To surpass all that had come before, and yet to pay homage to it all in the best possible way.  To tell a new story, and to finish the old one.  To remind us about what it means to have great friends that are there for us always, no matter how strange the things that are happening around us are.  To make us laugh.  To make us cry.  To remind  us of the past…

November 1995 was the month my wife, Cheryl, and I celebrated our engagement.  There was really only one place for us to go, Walt Disney World.  It was our first big trip together anywhere.  We stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort in this great little corner room near the river where we could watch fireworks in two different directions.  But we weren’t in Florida just to go to Disney World, it was also the first time Cheryl was going to meet my father and my stepmother.  So, before we even went to the World, we took a short trip down to Delray Beach.  One night while driving around, I convinced them to go to the movies, and despite protests from my stepmother, who thought it looked childish, we went to see Toy Story.  And we all loved it.

I went to college in Boston, and I’d been to plenty of animated film festivals there, sometimes several times a year.  And Pixar shorts were often prominently featured at these festivals, as they were a cult phenomenon.  So by the time Toy Story was coming out I was already quite familiar with their great works such as Luxo Jr., Knick Knack, and Tin Toy.  And I knew all about Toy Story even before it came out, at least as much as you could manage to back then.  As a Software Engineer, a huge movie buff, and having both a Silicon Graphics and a Sun Workstations on my desktop at work (the types of computers used to make the original Toy Story), I was amped to see the movie.  And I was not disappointed.

Okay, okay, I know this is supposed to be about Toy Story 3, not Toy Story.  But trust me it all matters.

The opening sequence to movie, while really just a big advertisement for the video game tie in, is fantastic.  It has several references back to the very first play session with Andy and his toys from Toy Story right down to one-eyed Bart, force field dogs, and force field eating dinosaurs.  This play session we find occurs not long after the events of Toy Story 2.  Afterward, Pixar takes the time to bring us up to speed on everything that’s happened between that time and the present.  Most importantly, we learn that Andy is heading off to college – which is the catalyst for the entire plot of the movie. This transition is very smooth and, for me, it worked well.  I don’t feel that I needed a movie to cover all of this.  I took it to mean that since Toy Story 2 all the great adventures of Andy’s toys have come from Andy rather than the arrival of new toys or a yard sale mishap.

Something clever that Toy Story 3 does is that, while making you nostalgic about the past, it paints the future.  There is a point early on in the movie where Buzz, Woody, and the rest are planning for their impending attic storage.  They take the time to acknowledge those who are no longer with them, and I remember that look on Woody’s face regarding Bo Peep.  In the time since the first Toy Story, my father has passed, and I completely understand that feeling.  Even though “I’m a Buzz”, I can always relate to the more emotional Woody.  That look was of genuine loss.  Woody had experienced it already with Bo Peep, and he knew that his friends were all about to experience it when Andy went off to college.  He was concerned for them.

Then suddenly the situation changes, and the adventure starts.  All the toys end up in a box destined for Sunnyside Daycare.  Everything seems magical there at first, and the toys are anxious to be played with for the first time in years.  All that is except for Woody.  He wants to get back to and go to college with Andy.  He’s once again exhibiting his selfish, self-centered, and insecure tendencies that were a large part of the plots of the first two Toy Story movies.  This time however, those tendencies end up working in the favor of the toys when they learn that Lotso (Ned Beatty) is not the nice “hugger” of a bear he’s presenting himself to be.  All this leads to a brilliant prison break, led by Woody, that is reminiscent of great prison break movies like The Great Escape, followed by a spine tingling end game sequence that is sure to make you gasp once or twice.

Along the way there are a few new characters outside of Lotso, the most memorable of which is Ken (Michael Keaton).  He’s just portrayed so remarkably, and the way he interacts with Barbie (Jodi Benson) is simply a lot of fun.  This couple goes through a smorgasbord of interactions that covers a wide range of couple related dynamics that we often see in movies and on television.  It’s quite brilliant.  Also notable are Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) – still trying to figure out if this is a JoCo reference – and the mostly silent Big Baby who, to me, was actually far more creepy and scary than Lotso (though its nods to Iron Giant were great).

You may have missed it, but the last scene of the movie (besides the stuff during the credits), is a picture of clouds in the sky.  This is not a reference to Up, but rather, its a reference to the very first thing you see in the original Toy Story – clouds on the wallpaper in Andy’s room.  They are the same sizes, shapes, and patterns.  Despite all the crying I had done up until this point in the movie, this was the most emotional moment of the movie for me because I realized this wasn’t just the end of the movie – it was the end.  For all his genius, Lee Unkrich had done something very important – he book ended the movie.  By doing this he and Pixar are saying to us that while their may be other Toy Stories to be had, this is the end of this Toy Story.  Andy’s all grown up, and he’s gone off to college.

Not that this would stop us park goers from seeing Buzz and Woody, as they’re still featured in both the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  We have rides like Toy Story Mania and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin to keep us entertained.  There’s also the fun of the Block Party Bash as you get to sing, scream, and dance with many Pixar characters including those from Toy Story.  You can also meet with Buzz in Tomorrowland while  Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye can be found in Frontierland.  I think our Toy Story fix is covered for years to come.

Like the first two Toy Story movies, this movie did not disappoint me in the least.  In fact it moved me, and I’m quite happy and thankful for that.  I think that if you’re a fan Toy Story you’ll want to see this movie now, in the theaters, if you can.  As for 2D vs 3D, Cheryl and I saw the movie in 3D, and I’m not sure that this movie needs to be seen in 3D. So if you can’t get to a 3D showing, or don’t enjoy seeing things in 3D, don’t feel that you’re missing anything – go see the movie in 2D and you’ll enjoy it just as much.  What I’m most thankful for is that this series that has been with us for so long has gone out on such an amazingly high note.  A fan could not ask for more.

Have you seen Toy Story 3 yet?  What did you think?  What was your favorite moment?  Your favorite new character?  If not, what are you looking forward to the most when you do see it? I look forward to reading your comments, thanks for stopping by.

Sock Hop Over to the 50s Prime Time Cafe

by on June 23, 2010

The 50s Prime Time Cafe is one of those restaurants on Walt Disney World property that just screams Disney

Photo by Christine Lydon

magic.  The cafe can be found in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the Echo Lake area.  You’ll know you’ve found the eatery when you see the neon signs pointing you in the right direction.  The decorations outside set the tone for the great theming and decor inside.

Upon entering the restaurant you will find a living room which looks like it came directly out of a 1950s sitcom.  After checking in, make yourself cozy while you wait to be seated, but don’t put your feet on the coffee table.  (Well maybe you should put your feet up on the coffee table to see what happens).  There is also a bar in this area where you can order cocktails from “dad’s liquor cabinet.”  If you could not secure an advanced dining reservation, the full menu is also available at the bar.

Once inside the dining areas the tables are made of Formica and seat cushions are covered in vinyl just like your grandma’s left over 1950s kitchen furniture.  Old televisions are placed throughout the dining rooms broadcasting 1950s classic TV shows like the Mickey Mouse Club.  This area is meant to feel as though you’ve stepped into mom’s kitchen at the height of the 50s with all of its pastel colors and knick knacks.

The menu here is full of comfort food favorites.  Meatloaf, pot roast, and tuna casserole are featured at dinner reminding guests of good old days at mom’s house.    I’ve also heard good things about the milkshakes at the 50s Prime Time Cafe, although I’ve never indulged in one.  If you have a sweet tooth, but aren’t in the mood for a milkshake or malt, then check out the dessert menu that comes to your table on a view finder.  Yup, the same toy you had as a kid.  I certainly wouldn’t say the cafe serves the best food at WDW (or even in DHS), but it’s tasty and atmosphere is the star here.  The lunch and dinner menus are very similar so try the cafe at either time.

What really makes this establishment special is the colorful cast members.  If you are looking for a nice, quiet

Photo by Christine Lydon

meal this is not the place for you. The servers are referred to as cousins and they will tease and taunt you throughout your lunch or dinner, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  They will make sure guests maintain their table manners and eat their veggies.  I have been scolded for putting my elbows on the table and I’ve heard tales of friends being forced to stand in the corner, being fed their vegetables, and general scolding for bad behavior.

I have been to the 50s Prime Time Cafe a few times and have had mixed experiences.  I’m convinced your reaction to this eatery lies on your server.  If your cast member is not into his or her roll, then it’s just not as much fun to eat here unless you really, really love meatloaf.  The whole point is to be rowdy and silly, and if that doesn’t happen then what’s the point?  The last time my friends an I ate here our waiter simply was not embracing his chance to play with guests.  His lackluster “performance” did not leave me with the need to return any time soon.  But, on my next trip in August a huge group of us will be dining here so I’m hoping for a lot of shenanigans.

Photo by Ryan Kilpatrick

A special thanks to reader Christine Lydon and this weeks guest blogger Ryan Kilpatrick for the photos used in this post!

So what do you think about this kitchy restaurant?  Let me know what are some of your favorite menu items or cast member antics!

Next week I’ll take a closer look at one of my favorite attractions for my favorite holiday…