Archive for March, 2011

WDW Today Episode 858 – "Pod" Luck

by on March 31, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 858 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:

So Long, Bad Times

by on March 31, 2011

Logo Copyright © Disney

When you look back on your youth certain things are looked upon with a reverence and awe that makes them stick out in your mind as nothing less than awesome.  And when you’re a total geek like I am, certain names, books, and movies come to the fore in your mind.  As a Disney fan during the heyday of such great things as Star Wars, The Godfather, and Caddyshack, you can only imagine how exciting it was to hear that Francis Ford Copala, George Lucas, and Rusty Lemorande were making a movie for the Disney parks.  And when they threw Michael Jackson into the mix… Woo!

Captain EO is a movie that stars Michael Jackson as Captain EO and Angelica Huston as The Supreme Leader.  It was an idea that stemmed from Jackson’s desire to get more involved in movies.  David Geffen suggested that he make one for Disney and contacted his friend Jeffrey Katzenberg who conferred with Michael Eisner about it.  They suggested that instead of a full movie they do a 3D music video to capitalize on the success of Thriller.  Jackson insisted on the involvement of either George Lucas or Steven Spielberg.  And an agreement was struck.

Three different story-lines were created by the Imagineer Rick Rothschild and together with Jackson they settled on Captain EO.  As Lucas was already working with Disney on Star Tours, he ended up working with Jackson.  And $30 million later, for many, the result was an amazing phenomenon of epic proportions that lasted for more than a decade around the world. It had first opened at Epcot (then EPCOT Center) in 1986, and Disneyland 6 days later – the closest original opening date of the same attraction in multiple parks.  It was also released in Tokyo Disneyland, and then Disneyland Paris.

The movie does have it’s detractors, many of whom felt the plot was a big, complicated mess. Other’s have stated disappointment in the quality of a product laced with such an incredible wealth of talent.  The truth is that it’s all about taste, and I’d clearly avoid the movie if you’re not a Michael Jackson or Science Fiction fan.  It does have a magical quality to it that makes it warm and inviting for an entire family, which is what Disney parks are really all about.

As the movie closed around the world, the fans would not let it die.  And for a long time it lived on through memories – helped along by the Internet through fan sites and YouTube.  But it wasn’t until Michael Jackson’s death in June 2009 that things got exciting.  The rumor mill kicked into high gear and it was even said that Disney officials had held a private screening of Captain EO in Disneyland’s Magic Eye Theater.  Some discouragement came in September 2009 when Bob Iger was reported as saying that there were no plans to bring it back.

Finally, that December it was announced that Captain EO would return to Disneyland.  Later followup annoucements disclosed that some of the original theater effects would not be returning (smoke and lasers), but that those effects that the theater did support would be incorporated.  And that a new 70mm print of the film along with an already enhanced theater sound system would help to enhance the experience.  And so on February 23, 2010 Captain EO returned to Disneyland.  It also eventually re-opened at the other three original locations.  Fanfare ensued.  Fans rejoyced.

The movie is only 17 minutes long and is projected in 3D and during it’s original run incorporated many in theater effects such as lasers and smoke that were synchronized to the film.  It is regarded as being one of the very first “4D” films and Lemorande who suggested they incorporate this into the movie – as a result he is often referred to as the “Father of 4D”.  With the smoke an lasers gone in the current theaters, you’re left with a shaking floor, bass speakers under the seats, water spray, and air guns.  The experience, while not 100% the same as the original, is completely there.

The plot of the movie is very simple and basic.  Captain EO is the captain of small spacecraft and it’s crew: Fuzzball (special effects: Rick Baker), Hooter (Tony Cox), Idy (Debbie Lee Carrington), Ody (Cindy Sorenson), Major Domo (Gary DePew) , and Minor Domo.  Their “boss” Commander Bog (Dick Shawn), only shown as a floating holographic head, has sent them to a trash filled mechanical wasteland of a planet in order to liberate it’s people through the sound of music and the passion of love.  This is their last chance to prove themselves or they’ll be “drummed out of the corps.

What comes next is a space battle, followed by a crash landing, followed by our heroes being captured.  They are brought before the HR Giger inspired Supreme Leader who sentences them all to death by trashcan or imprisonment.  Captain EO however offers her a gift in return, and what ensues is an amazing song and dance number as Captain EO transforms all the palace inhabitants winning them over to his cause.  With their help, he eventually transforms the Supreme Leader into Angelica Huston, who, in 1986, was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in the world.  The mechanical shell of the world is removed as it is transformed into a paradise.  The End.

The movie has two orchestral pieces – the underlying score and the pre-show music.  It also has what were at the time two brand new Michael Jackson songs.  The one fans of the show probably find themselves singing/humming is “We Are Here to Change the World” which is the song used to eventually transform the Supreme Leader.  It was never released as part of an album until 2004 on “The Ultimate Collection” and is a shorter version than what is heard in Captain EO.  The second song is a very early version of “Another Part of Me” which can be found on the Grammy Award winning album “Bad”.

As I’ve indicated above, if you’re a Michael Jackson fan or a Science Fiction fan, or better yet both, then see this movie.  For everyone else, your mileage may vary.  As someone in the “both” category, I can’t help but love this movie in all it’s pure cheesy and awesome glory.  If there’s any way that Michael Jackson should be remembered it’s this way, when he was on top as the “King of Pop.”  He did after all change the world.

What about you? Have you seen Captain EO?  The original release?  The current release only?  Both?  Do you love it?  Hate it?  Why?  We’re bringin’ brighter days.

Walt Disney World April 2011

by on March 30, 2011

Visiting Walt Disney World in April? Find out what is going on around the resort!

Easter Week
Easter week is one of the busiest weeks of the year at the Walt Disney World resort. This year, Easter falls later than usual, on April 24th. From April 17th through April 27th, the Crowd Calendar predicts crowd levels of 10. Guests going to the parks during this time should be prepared with a Touring Plan, preferably a Holiday Touring Plan, and check the Crowd Calendar for park recommendations.

In previous years Disney has put on special events for Easter. These include an Easter parade, Easter egg hunts for the kids, and meet and greets with the Easter Bunny. The schedule for these events has not been announced yet, but keep a look out for a post when information becomes available.

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
The Flower & Garden Festival is now in full swing and will continue through the entire month of April and on in to May. Don’t miss the topiaries, gardens, presentations, and much more going on over at Epcot!

Cheerleading and Dance World Championship
April 28th through May 2nd is the Cheerleading and Dance World Championship. Typically with these types of events, the crowds will not be noticeably greater in the parks, but there will be large groups of dancers and cheerleaders around the resorts (especially the values) and where their events are taking place.

Grad Night
Grad Nights are special evenings for graduating high school seniors that take place at the Magic Kingdom. On April 29th and 30th, the park will close at 7pm so that it can reopen at 10pm for the event (which lasts until 4am). Due to the early closure, it is recommended that guests visit a different park on those days.

Star Tours 2?
Although it is not slated to open until May 20th, it is possible that soft openings will begin towards the end of April. It is not in any way official or guaranteed, however, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the attraction if visiting in April just in case.

Image credits: Denise Cross, insidethemagic, and Loren Javier API – Calling All Disney Developers

by on March 30, 2011

We’re pretty geeky around here at HQ. Over the past few years, we’ve spent a lot of time building up a big database of Disney attraction, hotel, and dining information, and a lot more (we even started predicting park hours last week). Because we’re big geeks, we also love APIs — ways for 3rd-party web and app developers to access data (we talked about Disney APIs on the latest Betamouse episode).

As an experiment, we’re testing a simple API for that includes basic attraction, dining, and hotel information in JSON format. It does not include any crowd information or copyrighted data from the Unofficial Guide. It will, however, give you a bunch of core data that that may help jumpstart or add to a wicked-awesome Disney programming project; data that you won’t have to compile or maintain on your own (we will!).

If you’re a developer and would like to check it out, please email me: Eager to hear what you think!

WDW Today Episode 857 – Listener Questions

by on March 30, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 857 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:

Disney’s Pirate Adventure at the Grand Floridian

by on March 28, 2011

If you’re like me, going on a trip to Walt Disney World is such a big deal that it’s hard to focus on things outside of the four theme parks.  With children it’s a necessity.  Kids can get overloaded with all there is to do in the theme parks, and a little detour can offer a nice change of pace, especially on longer trips.  I took one of these detours for my son on a recent trip with Disney’s Pirate Adventure at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. 

The Pirate Adventure offers kids ages 4 to 12 a chance to get away from their parents for a trip around the Seven Seas Lagoon on an authentic pirate ship.  Well, it’s authentic to the kids, right?  The adventure is offered on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and costs $34.00 per child.  The trip takes place from 9:30-11:30 a.m., and can be booked at 407-WDW-PLAY up to 180 days in advance.

We had an early breakfast at Kona Café at the Polynesian, then took the monorail over to the Grand Floridian.  The Pirate Adventure leaves from the boat dock, which you have probably seen from the monorail before.  We showed up about 30 minutes early and met the cast members there to check in.  My son was outfitted with a life jacket, bandana headpiece and name tag, to make him up like a real pirate. 

Within a few minutes, he was out on the boat, and set sail across the lagoon.  Parents do not accompany the kids on this adventure, which I must admit was a source of concern.  I’m an overprotective parent if there ever were one, and leaving my son with Disney was a worry.  Let me say now that if you are like me and a worrier, you have nothing to fear here. 

The kids were gone for a couple of hours, during which time they sailed to several different beaches around the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.  My son pointed out stops they made on the Polynesian beach, the Wilderness Lodge area, and the beaches next to the Magic Kingdom.  I’m sure there were others, but he was talking so fast that it was hard to understand him.  To say he was excited is an understatement. 

A Photopass photographer accompanies the kids on the journey, so you can purchase pictures of your child’s adventure even if you did not join them.  Each child also comes back with “buried treasure,” which is a collection of candy and pirate toys in a plastic chest.  Kids are also fed a snack while on the trip.

This little detour in our trip allowed us to take a morning off from the parks, but not take away too much time.  My daughter was only 3 at the time, so we did not send her on the Pirate Adventure, but we will next time we have the chance.  She would not be alone, either.  There were plenty of girls on the ship with my son.  

For us, it was a fantastic opportunity to do something for our daughter, by taking her to visit the princesses at the Magic Kingdom, then grab lunch as a family when my son came back.  Other families might take the two hours to enjoy brunch or explore the resorts around the monorail.  Whatever you choose to do, your children will definitely enjoy the Pirate Adventure. 

Do any of you have experience with these adventures?  Or can you recommend others around Walt Disney World?

WDW Today Episode 856 – Paying For The Magic

by on March 27, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 856 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:

Overlooked Attractions: Carousel of Progress

by on March 25, 2011

Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdom - Carousel of Progress

We’ve all heard the history of Carousel of Progress. That it originated at some fairgrounds. That the Allman Brothers wrote some jingle for it. That it is probably haunted. History isn’t my thing, so I will defer to other sites that offer a more comprehensive look at those items. Rather, I will give a brief walk-through of Carousel of Progress, indicating why I think it’s an invaluable attraction in the Magic Kingdom, especially during busy times of the year.

While a perennial favorite among the most hardcore fans due to its history (its actual history, not the bunk above), Carousel of Progress is fairly unpopular with the park-going public. I don’t have any statistics to corroborate this assertion, but they’re hardly necessary, as the naked eye can deduce as much by the mostly-empty to half-full theater crowds it draws.

Magic Kingdom (Carousel of) Progress!

Given the light audiences typically viewing the attraction, I am betting a lot of you out there have not seen the attraction. Perhaps not as many as the park-going public, as it is a Walt Disney classic, but still many, nonetheless. Those of you who have been into the attraction may have passed the time by sleeping or taking respite from the hot weather, rather than actually watching the show. Hopefully this post will convince some of you to give this attraction a second chance!

After guests load into the theater the first scene is a brief introduction, setting the historical context of the show. The father, John, is the main narrator of the show, with his wife, son, daughter, parents, and crazy Uncle Orville also appearing throughout the show. In the first three scenes, these other family members are presented through screened rotating vignettes off to the left and right sides of the stage; in the final scene, these rotating scenes are not present, but instead, the entire family is together in the family’s kitchen and living room. Alongside the father in each of the first three scenes is his trusty dog, with whom he interacts throughout the attraction.
Carousel of Progress

The substantive scenes begin in the Spring, around Valentine’s Day at the beginning of the 20th century. As will become a theme of the attraction, the family is using innovations for that era, such as gas lamps, a water pump, a hand-cranked washing machine, and a gramophone.

Taking place in the Summer, around the 4th of July in the roaring ’20s, the second act features the mother (through ) creating costumes for the big Fourth of July Celebration downtown in which the entire family will be participating that evening.During the course of this act, the father introduces us to all of the latest technological innovations, which “perform” in musical unison “Be Our Guest-style” before blowing a fuse.

The third act takes place in Fall and Halloween in the 1940s, and has the family utilizing new devices including the automatic dishwasher and television. The father discusses how he has become a “rat” with fellow other rats in a thing called the “rat race.” In a humorous and somewhat irreverent exchange, the mother also uses a paint mixing system created by the father.

The finale scene is set in Winter, at Christmas-time, and depicts the family interacting with the technology of the present day. Well, if present day technology includes laser discs and car phones. If there were one valid criticism of this show, I think it would be that this scene has not been updated appropriately, and that its dated to the mid-90s (1994 was its last full update). Accordingly, there are some parts that are a little laughable, but overall, even this scene is pretty solid if you can get past these issues. After this finale there is a concluding scene, thanking guests for visiting and sending them on their way.

Given this dry account, you may think of it as a boring show deserving of its poor attendance. It’s not. In an age when many attractions seek to appeal to the lowest common denominator and avoid making any offensive remarks at all costs, Carousel of Progress is a great change of pace. Wry and irreverent in many of the same ways as Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress manages to offer engrossing vignettes with just the right amount of entertainment and even some educational undertones.

The family interacts well with one another, and their little faults and quirks make them all the more endearing. Not only that, but the show has many chuckle-inducing moments, and a fair amount of subtle humor. To a lot of guests, looking only for the next thrill or special effect, this may not be that compelling, but I know blog readers are more discerning! In any case, unless you are very limited on time, you should experience every attraction yourself rather than dismissing it out of hand based on the recommendation of someone else. Some of my favorite attractions are ones that are generally unpopular with the park-going public, so you never know what you might like!

Even if you have found all of the forgoing unpersuasive, consider this: Carousel of Progress hardly ever has a wait (except for the next show to begin). Even during the busiest times of the year. If, for some inexplicable reason, you’ve opted against following a touring plan, or find yourself in our “park to avoid” on a 10 day on the Crowd Calendar,  the Carousel of Progress could be just the time-killer you need to pass 20 minutes while waiting for your FastPass window to open. If it’s either that or wandering around Mickey’s Star Traders for the 10th time on your trip, why not just give it a chance?

What do you think? Am I crazy to call Carousel of Progress one of my favorite attractions in the Magic Kingdom, or do you agree with my assessment? What is your favorite overlooked attraction at Walt Disney World?

WDW Today Episode 855 – Worth The Money

by on March 24, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 855 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:

BETAMOUSE #58 – Disney APIs

by on March 24, 2011

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

Download the episode directly or subscribe via iTunes or RSS.