Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Posts tagged ‘Disneyland’

D23 Expo 2017 Magical Afterglow

D23-Expo-Balloons-1I’ve spent the last week trying to absorb my D23 Expo experience and write a narrative for the three days I attended. There’s quite a lot to cover. And, it’s possible, that by now, you’ve started to hear many positive and negative reviews of the Expo. I’ll continue to work  on a blow by blow account, which may be useful for future Expo goers. But, when I’ve sat and thought about the Event, what comes to mind, more than anything else is the people I encountered. So, for now, I’d like to focus on some positives related to guests, cast members and presenters, who I think made my time at the Expo gratifying and pleasurable.

d23 2017 crowd

In my last post, D23 Expo 2017 Pre-Event Excitement, I talked about the Expo as an opportunity to be amongst all kinds of Disney fans. Some are there to buy limited edition or just released items. Some want to get autographs, selfies or see famous people. Others want to be “first” to know about movie, TV or theme park news. Unfortunately, many things I’ve read about the Expo, pre or post events, often start with the lines. I would say, if there’s one thing we Disney people know how to do, it’s wait on lines and follow instructions. On a Park queue, everyone is focused on their group – where they’ve been and where they are going. They have little interest in their line buddies. At the Expo, I usually waited 3+ hours seated or standing the whole time with the same people, waiting for morning entry into the Convention Center. The difference is, we all knew why we’re there, so the ice was already broken.  It was easy to strike up a conversation, usually started with “Where are you from?” or “Is this your first Expo?”. From there things either went to “What panels are you trying to see?” or “What are you here to buy that you can’t get anywhere else?” or “Whose autograph/picture are you hoping to score?” From all around, people would just jump into the conversation with their thoughts or questions. Even though we are all uncomfortable sitting on the hot concrete or rubbery legged from standing, everyone was upbeat, excited and just plain thrilled to be so close to getting inside (There are others who are much further back in an endless, snaking line. But I’m focused on the group that was unbothered to wake up around 5am to even get close to the front of the line). Then, even after waiting that long, the Disney crowd was still able to follow instructions that allowed us to all get inside, efficiently and without pushing, shoving or other chaos. Each time a group moved forward toward the Center doors a cheer would go up, followed by a groan as we were held at the next line checkpoint. It was truly a group happening, like a concert in Central Park.

Disney has gotten very good at Park crowd control. And the queues for panels or store entry were handled in the same organized manner. But the Expo morning entry is a different kind of animal. So, I’d like to say Thank You to the brave, hard working Cast Members who, not only,  maintained a cheery disposition in the face of repetitive questions (Is this the line to get in? Is there a VIP line just for me? What if I don’t have a ticket already? Is the (fill in the blank) panel already filled? Where’s the end of the line?, etc.) They repeated their pleas to “stay in line”, “have your bag open for inspection”, “keep the line moving” (when it did) “please don’t cut the line corners as you snake around” and “You’re almost there”. No one should underestimate the effect that positive energy can have on a large, tired, uncomfortable crowd of people to keep things from getting out of hand. Then, once things got moving, instructions were simple and consequences for rule breaking were made clear. It may just be me, but all these intangibles make me feel good about doing my part to make things run smoothly and efficiently so I can get to the fun.

end of queue sign blowup

Signs like this could be seen everywhere

On the whole, I found all Cast Members to be polite, upbeat and helpful. No, they didn’t always have the best or most accurate information. Yes, I did, get different answers from different Cast Members a few times. But, I don’t think that the individuals were always to blame. It’s not as if they were all wearing walkie talkies getting the most up to date news flashes. During my time waiting on various lines, I took an informal poll of the line monitors, whose job it was to hold up signs reading “Start of Queue”, “End of Queue” and “Queue Break”. Since I was sure that the postings were not full time jobs, I started asking what they usually do for the Disney Company. Most worked at Disneyland. I met tram drivers, tram announcers, gate ticket takers and even food preparers. So, in defense of the Cast Members, it’s not as if they are used to doing that job, or for that matter, any of the jobs at the Expo all the time. The Expo is only held every two years. So, it’s possible that training is not as thorough as it might be ordinarily. And, there appeared to be changes happening all the time. Most of the time, if someone didn’t have an answer, they were honest and said so. Most of the Cast Members I spoke to admitted that they would have been happier doing their regular job, instead of holding a sign for hours at a time. I watched another queue monitor very actively and enthusiastically, protect a line from potential queue jumpers. Even the daily, small parade the snaked through the show floor was full of the same Cast enthusiasm and professionalism as any I’ve seen in the Parks.

 

 

I was not successful in getting into any of the big announcement sessions like Movies and Theme Parks. But, I was prepared for that possibility and still managed to attend 8 panel discussions over the 3 days of the Expo. Without exception, all the speakers and panel members, not all of whom are professional presenters, were entertaining and engaging. Many that stood out for me were presented by the Disney Archives group, including:

d23 expo archives logo

Bill Cotter, TV Historian and author, gave us a behind the scenes look at the Zorro TV series, including behind the scenes pictures, casting accounts, and stories about the program’s promotions in Disneyland. He also emphasized, that unlike other TV shows of the day, Walt insisted on spending extra money and effort, to insure that the stories, sets and costumes were historically accurate. After Bill’s presentation, I now think the series doesn’t get its due as part of the Disney cannon.

Steve Merritt and Legendary Imagineeer Tony Baxter took us through history of the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough from its Walt inspired idea to promote the soon to be released movie, all the way to the current re-incarnation of the original attraction. There were with blueprints, photographs and amazing stories of the design, engineering, execution, abandonment and recreation of the attraction.

Hans Perk, Animation Historian, took us for a virtual tour of the Disney Hyperion studios, allowing us to see where many iconic photos of Walt and Co. were taken during some of the studio’s most important and creative period from 1926 to 1940. I’ve read a lot about the studio. “Seeing” it as the odd configuration of buildings, put together to meet the growing demands of Walt’s imagination, allowed me to get a sense of the tremendous that he fueled with his energy and enthusiasm.

Fun, laughter and excitement was all around the Expo panel rooms and show floor. I saw people showing off their newly acquired treasures, sharing stories of surprises, even some disappointments. I and others shared our food with those who didn’t plan as well, graciously saved spaces in line for bathroom runs and even offered to sell. without markup, an extra limited edition item to someone who was less fortunate.

Some Expo surprises:

A daily parade on the show floor, complete with celebrities like Mark Hamil and Stan Lee.

Free cold brewed ice coffee with nifty Disney designs

A picture in the D23 lounge area which included my wife and I, taken during the NYC ,Gold Member, Behind the Scenes Event. We’re in the middle of the back row.

A free Gold Member gift

gold member gift

The Lion King 360° VR Experience let me virtually experience the Broadway musical from onstage. I could all around, in the wings, out in to the audience and into the flies as the opening scene at Pride Rock unfolded.

And, finally, admidst the thousands of people on the show floor, I ran into two people that I know from my NYC Disney fan group. And I got the chance to meet some Facebook friends for the first time.

There’s so much more to tell about my Expo experience. After something like the Expo, I usually find that I’ve taken photos of all the wrong things and missed other opportunities to capture the moments. I’ll post some of my photos here, anyway. Yes, there are things that I thought could have been done that might have made the Expo even better. But for now, I think I’m satisfied to share the things that made the Event so much fun for me. I’m sure I’ll be able to feed off the memories for some time. Hopefully the magical glow will last until the next time.

me at expo

 

D23 Expo 2017 Pre-Event Excitement

expo_Banner_2017According to the LA Times, there will be about 60,000 people attending the D23 Expo this year. It’s anybody’s guess how many tickets were sold for this years event at the Anaheim Convention Center. I’m happy to say, for the second time, I will be one of the thousands. You may have heard or read about waiting on lines, the crowds and that it’s impossible to get all the sessions you’d like to attend. I can’t speak for the other 59,999 Disney addicted souls, but I would rather accentuate the positive.

For me, the Expo represents an amazing gathering of people who can’t get enough Disney. Strange as it may seem, with all of the thousands of Disney fans who might live in or around where I live, I have found it difficult to connect with fellow Disneyites. I recently found a group of people who love all things Disney as much as I do. But for years, the only time I could surround myself with Disney fans, without making a spectacle of myself, was to go to a Disney movie. (See my post What’s with you and the Disney Thing? for some thoughts on my connection to Disney) The D23 Expo offers people like me an amazing opportunity to let the Disney Company do something for me as a fan, make me feel important and be surrounded by like minded people.

disney-twenty-three_SP09_Cover

2009 Premiere Magazine Issue

Over the years, Disney has done small things to acknowledge their fans, who, by the way, give them the funds to keep creating. Magazines, the old Magic Kingdom Club and probably some other things I’ve forgotten or didn’t know about. I don’t live near either of the 2 U.S. theme parks or the Disney Studios, so attending special events like premiere’s, screenings or tours is very difficult. I was always looking for something more. Maybe even a thank you for the money I have spent and the time I have loyally and happily invested in Disney related movies, trips and merchandise over the years. So, when Bob Iger announced the D23 fan club in 2009 I signed up. If nothing else, at least I’d get a magazine for my membership money. As I expected, early on, the events were mostly in and around Anaheim. But, the quarterly magazine has consistently exceeded my expectations. The articles are interesting and varied, the pictures are excellent the overall feel of the publication is very classy. And they always include a little keepsake surprise with the issues. So, I kept renewing. I’m glad I did.

Fast forward to 2012 when the Disney Archives announced the “FANniversary”  celebration, with NYC as one of the cities they would visit. I grabbed my tickets, hoped for something more than marketing for the fanniversary 2012latest Disney films and tried to manage my expectations. The event exceeded those expectations. Not only was the event well organized, but there were keepsakes for everyone and the presentations by the Disney Archivists were interesting, full of surprises and included pictures and video that I had not seen before, covering movies, television, theme parks and more, all related to Disney Celebrations. I left the theater feeling more than satisfied with my annual membership.

The FANniversary was followed by an anniversary screening of Peter Pan on the big screen in NYC. Then in 2014 there was a second FANniversary tour. This time it celebrated many Disney anniversaries, including:

  • The 1964-65 Worlds Fair – 50 years
  • Donald Duck – 80 years
  • Disney’s MGM Studios (yes they referred to it that way for the celebration!) – 25 years
  • Mary Poppins – 50 years
  • The Muppet Movie, Muppets Take Manhattan, and Muppet Babies – 35, 30 and 30 years
  • Marvel – 75 years
  • Sleeping Beauty – 55 years
  • The Little Mermaid – 25 years
  • The Incredibles – 10 years
  • Toy Story 2 – 15 years
  • The Lion King – 20 years
  • The “E” Ticket – 55 years
  • The Haunted Mansion – 45 years
  • The Tower of Terror – 20 years
  • The Adventurer’s Club – 25 years
  • Splash Mountain – 25 years
  • Big Thunder Mountain – 35 years

This time the event was held in a much larger theater, which speaks to the popularity of the event, and included a photo opportunity to see and stand near two pieces of Disney History. I can’t find my photos, but they were Mary Poppins’ hat and a Duckster statuette.

Once again, a lot of care was taken in organizing the afternoon and a good time was had by all who attended.  Now we’ve moved onto 2015 and I’m really starting to feel the love from Disney. So, I put some nickels, dimes and hundred dollar bills together (remember I live near NYC) and bought a ticket to my first D23 Expo.  As I get on the plane to LAX, I’m alternately excited and terrified. I had been reading some stories about camping out, long lines, and some attendees turned away from sessions that had filled up. This was a picture of the convention center the day before the Expo began.

d12 convention center 2015

The size of the signs correctly foreshadowed the size and scope of the convention. But, that day it looked peaceful.

I’m having difficulty remembering, but I think I arrived at the convention center the next morning at around 7am. My first impression was that things were a little disorganized as far as where to go, and the lines to check in were ridiculously long. After several hours in the heat, I was inside and found my way to another line to wait for the Legends presentation.

expo 2015 pano

This isn’t going to be a review of the 2015 Expo, so, I’d like to say that overall, I left after the 3 days, feeling:

  • That I had more than gotten my money’s worth . Between the sessions and the show floor, it was a first class event. So much to see and so many things to do.
  • Like an insider. Many of the sessions included new announcements for movies, theme parks and more. Sessions for movies and parks required everyone to seal their phones in a bag while monitors watched the crowd. Very secret.

coming soon expo 2015

  • Totally appreciated by the Disney Company. They pulled out all the stops. There were so many surprises, including top movie and theme park “Stars”, including Harrison Ford, Sir Ben Kingsley, Johnny Depp (once as Captain Jack Sparrow), Chris Evans, Richard Sherman, Marty Sklar and Rolly Crump, to name just a few. And the three days included many unique experiences, including: Showings of the Silly Symphonies with live orchestral  accompaniment and commentary by Leonard Maltin. A live concert of Disney Broadway songs featuring James Monroe Iglehart (original Broadway Genie).  Imagineering trivia and secrets.And  I took advantage of the Charter Members lounge, which was like a quiet oasis amidst the general noise of the conventions.

Silly symph concert

  • Overwhelmed by the exhibits on the show floor, including the Pandora sneak peak, Disney Archives display of original Disneyland artifacts, Star Wars costumes, Shanghai Disney preview and even John Lasseters Hawaiian shirts, plus vendors and shopping.

lasseter hawaiin

  • Thoroughly exhausted, since I spent all day at the Expo and then went to Disneyland for a few hours each night. Whew. And I was looking forward to the next Expo.

Yes, I waited on some lines, but I never felt like it wasn’t worth it in the end. No, I did not get to every session I wanted to, but I’ve never been to any conference or convention, for business or pleasure, where I was able to accomplish that. Yes, there was a lot of walking, but that made up for not getting in my usual exercise time. No. I didn’t get very much of the special Expo merchandise, but I that wasn’t why I attended. Yes, I was tired, but I will still take advantage of the discounted Disneyland tickets again this year.

Last year, I was able to attend the 25th anniversary showing of Beauty and the Beast at  Lincoln Center. Not only did we get to see the movie on a big screen, but there was a panel discussion with Angela Lansbury, Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White and producer Don Hahn. We were treated to a mini concert by Alan Menken and then cane a complete surprised. Ms. Lansbury came out and sang Beauty and the Beast accompanied by Mr. Menken.

This year I had the unique opportunity to attend a D23 Gold member event in NYC, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of Disney re-opening the historic Amsterdam Theater in NYC. You can read the full account of this amazing day in my post Report on D23’s “Behind the Scenes” NYC Event.

So, here we are, less than a week away from Expo 2017. Certainly, knowledge is power, I’m less nervous about what to expect. But, since it seems that Disney is always tinkering with things, I expect that there will be differences in how things work this year. Again, I’m managing my expectations for what sessions I would like to attend. Now that the full schedule is out, there are many things I’d like to see and experience. Many of them overlap or happen at the same time.

I hope that my second Expo is as fun and fulfilling as the first. I will try to attend some of the large sessions for Parks and movies and some of the reunion/celebration sessions for Lion King, Zorro and Hercules. I also would like to get to the sessions celebrating some of the Disney magic makers from the past like the Ink and Paint women, Disney product legacy, and the virtual visit to Hyperion Studio.

I hope all of you that have taken advantage of D23 are enjoying your membership as much as I am. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that it would be nice if the profitable Disney organization would not charge extra for tickets to all these events. But, I do understand that everything costs money. And I wouldn’t want them to skimp on the quality of the events. Even though many activities take place in Anaheim, the Disney Company is making a real effort to reach out to fans in many ways. Certainly, mounting an event as ambitious as the Expo every two years involves hundreds of people and very complicated logistics. If they were to ask me, I would encourage them to do more in the future and keep me and the rest of my Disney fan community feeling appreciated.

 

 

Imagination in Disney Theme Parks

walt carousel benchWalt always said that he built Disneyland so an average family could all have fun together, instead of the parents watching from a nearby bench, as he had done with his daughters. The attractions Walt created in the first decade of the park from the Main St. USA entrance, to Frontierland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland and, of course, Fantasyland were designed, primarily, with the idea of imaginative play. Have the changes to the parks that have occurred over the decades stayed true to his original vision? Or has time made it necessary for the Disney company to alter course to meet the demands of modern visitors?

Contrary to urban legend, on opening day Disneyland’s attraction list was modest, consisting of about 12 attractions, the Disneyland band, a movie theater, shooting gallery, a horse car, musical revue and the Castle. But for a 1950s audience, the park was like opening a play chest full of costumes, props and toys. What kid in that era didn’t want to pretend to be a heroic Davy Crockett fighting Indians or an adventurous explorer discovering the unknowns of the deep jungle, fly like Peter Pan or Dumbo or drive a car. Adults could happily ride with their kids and then the kids could join their parents in experiencing idealized versions of the past by riding a steam powered train, gliding on a Mississippi riverboat, relive your childhood on a magnificently restored 19th century carousel where every horse was a jumper or shoot like a western marksman.

With the introduction of the Matterhorn in 1959 Disney introduced the first themed, steel roller coaster to the theme park world. But Walt, who had wanted a Disneyland coaster matterhorn 1959from the start, still managed to have his cake and ate it too. The Matterhorn’s tubuler track and nylon wheels combined with reaching a height of only 80 feet (modern coasters go well over 255 feet) made for the kind of family friendly attraction that fit, what he believed, (and magically seemed to know) his guests wanted. While the theming and zooming in and out of the mountain make for a highly stylized view of the Iconic European Alps, it was a departure from what most 50s Americans would have imagined they might ever do.

Alice8-58The family friendly, imaginative play theme continued through Walt’s lifetime with the additions of Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, Alice in Wonderland and the Sailing Ship Columbia, peaking perhaps, in the early 60s. Walt began to take advantage of technological advancements accelerated by WED’s work for the 1964 NY World’s Fair. (See my posts Walt Disney Goes to the Fair and Report on D23’s “Behind the Scenes” NYC Event for more Disney Fair info) And we can see Walt’s attention turning more toward the future as guests were treated to a new form of transportation when the Disneyland Monorail took off in 1959. Even today, many visitors (and the Disney Company) consider the Monorail an attraction.

monorail opening

VP Nixon & family help Walt Disney dedicate the Monorail at Disneyland June 1959.

Aside from the Monorail, the rest of attractions which Disney had direct input into: Enchanted Tiki Room; The Disneyland Story presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln; It’s a Small World; and finally Pirates of the Caribbean, all could and still are enjoyed by all guests, from the oldest to the youngest. Pacific island theming was very hot in the 60s, with tiki bars serving Mai Tais everywhere and Hawaiian shirts in every man’s closet. Perhaps more than previous attractions, music now played an important part in the overall design as Walt continued to create a movie-like experience for guests.

062613_tiki-room-50th-anniversary-archives-15

In the decades after Walt’s death Walt Disney World opened and the attractions at the two U.S. parks haven’t always matched. But, in general, attractions like Space Mountain, Star Tours, Indiana Jones Adventure/Dinosaur, Splash Mountain, as well as the newer Soarin’ versions, in my opinion, demonstrate an approach which is still steeped in Imagineering theming and storytelling. But the emphasis is on thrills and a more immersive feel with little room for individual imagination. We experience the attractions without necessarily having to use our own imaginations to be entertained. In some cases it’s all about the thrills, in attractions like Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest and California Screamin’. Theme parks and amusement parks continue to up the ante on thrill rides, so, it follows, that in order to keep customers who want to feel an adrenaline rush, Disney had to offer those options to their guests.

Family style entertainment still has a place in the U.S. theme parks, plussed (Disney style enhancement) by 3D projections in attractions like Muppetvision and Toy Story Midway Mania. Sometimes 3D is combined with other sensory surprises found in Mickey’s Philharmagic and It’s Tough to be a Bug. Animatonics have seen their share of added pizazz  through computer animation seen in Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Radiator Springs Racers.

avatar bustFinally, with the opening of Pandora and the imminent unveiling of Star Wars Land, Disney is taking theming to new levels of immersiveness. Not only are there new attractions in these mini-parks, but, instead of just entering into the story of the attraction starting at the queue, we are plunged into that story from the moment we enter the Land. The theming encompasses everything around the visitor, food, costuming, and, in the case of Pandora, flora. During the Star Wars Land announcement at the 2015 D23 Expo, Bob Iger joked that they were looking for future park employees who could speak a variety of alien languages. I’ll bet that if it were possible, Disney would be all in.

It’s my opinion that Disney keeps an ear to the ground, listening for changes in theme park entertainment to compete with other park operators.  But, they also have an eye on a public that demands more thrills and expects technology to play more than a supporting role in attractions. With the commercial availability of virtual reality gear, it may only be a matter of time before we’re all strapping on goggles and headsets for future attractions.

As the U.S. Disney parks continue to grow and change, we still see the spirit of Walt’s family oriented approach in rides like Toy Story Midway Mania, the upcoming Toy Story Land, Voyage of the Little Mermaid and the continued popularity of attractions like Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight. Not everyone can take advantage of every attraction anymore. But that doesn’t mean adults or children have to sit on a bench and watch. There’s more than enough to keep everyone happy and entertained during a vacation stay.

I don’t like to refer to audience sophistication, because, in the end we all want to be entertained, whether through thrills, scares, laughs or surprises. But because we have so much entertainment, literally, at our fingertips, Disney has had to meet our expanded expectations. And we always want more. How many of you don’t think twice about seeing a movie in 3D? How many of you have young children who turn up their noses at the carousel or Dumbo?

My children loved to play pretend, using their imaginations to turn their bedroom into a Buzz Lightyear rocket ship or do the twilight bark with their stuffed animals. And Walt certainly gave those early Disneyland visitors the same opportunity, albeit, with a little more pizazz. I think flexing our imaginations and dreaming helped create generations of inventors, strivers and dreamers that built companies like IBM, Ford, Apple and Google and made our country the envy of the world. I hope that having our entertainment fed to us rather than having to work for it a little will not lead us to be a country that sits and waits for things to happen instead of making magic.

dreamfinder

You’re Not a Villain if you take a Disney Vacation

mrtoad_detailI was in a restaurant the other day for the first time and on the inside cover of their wine list was an explanation for their approach to wine offerings. It begins with the following: “Ever been to Disneyland? Welcome to our version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (or splash and swirl mountain, if you prefer)”. A little further along, they talk about changing the way traditional wine lists are formatted. Toward the end of the page, they finish with “Remember, it’s just like Disneyland (without the long lines)”. On the one hand, the restaurant clearly wants its wine list seen as singularly inventive, ground breaking, fun and memorable, the waywalt watching painter many people viewed Disneyland. Whoever wrote this was a Mr. Toad fan, so probably someone who likes Disney theme parks enough to pick an attraction that had a large fan base. But, then after some explanation about how make the best use of the list, including some tips (take a look at it before coming in, ask the server for recommendations, let the server choose for you, or forget the wine and order scotch), the writer felt it necessary to cover the other half of the world’s view of the Happiest place on Earth, by making references to attraction lines. If you read my post What’s with you and the Disney Thing?, I’d say the writer has not come to terms with his or her inner Disney fan.

castle costWhen I hear other people talk about their Disney theme park vacations, some of the first comments they often make are related to three different complaints. First up is “It’s so expensive” (often followed by a “you know what I mean” look or a sigh). I’ll admit, a Disney theme park vacation is not going to be cheap. I do, however, believe one should think in terms of what value for your money. Even If you don’t stay at a hotel on the Disney property, you are getting an extremely immersive experience chock full of just about every vacation option you can think of, (with the exception of the actual ocean), all as close a short car or bus ride.  Here in NY a movie ticket will cost me $13 for about 2 hours of entertainment, including endless previews, commercials, not including snacks, A ticket to the Bronx Zoo is $37 and is limited to walking and watching the animals. I’ll let you do the math. And that doesn’t include all of the free activities that you can take advantage of once you are inside the park.

Wherever you roam within a Disney theme park, you can be assured of a consistently high quality of customer experience. There’s no surprise when playing round of miniature golf that the course will be clean, well managed and, of course, perfectly themed. Every interaction whether it’s an attraction that starts with a themed, often, covered queue or a restaurant, perhaps with characters, or character meet and greets, is handled with the highest quality and attention to detail. As the inventor of the modern7-guest-service-guidelines theme park, Walt always insisted on the highest levels of customer service at Disneyland. It all started with calling the employees Cast Members. Walt believed that a theme park visit should feel like going to a show or a movie. Once a Cast Member is “on stage” each guest interaction is handled with a smile and an honest desire to add to the your vacation’s enjoyment. That tradition continues today. Every time you interact with a cast member, you’re not only treated like a valued customer, but made to feel you are somehow special. Many of us have experienced an unexpected magical moment, like a fastpass, a free pin or help finding a lost item.

06_ParksBlog_BigTop_MerchDisplaySecond complaint is that Disney is too commercial and geared towards kids. Let’s put that first part into context. Every vacation spot in the world is a commercial undertaking. If, by commercial, those people mean that it’s all about Disney. Well, yes, it is. That’s why people would go to Disney parks, instead of some other vacation option. And, having souvenirs with those much loved characters is no different than being upsold a scuba excursion or Hawaiian Luau. And unless you’ve been kidnapped, blindfolded and released without your consent into Disneyland, I don’t think I’ve seen too many unhappy adults at Disney parks. (Unless they are they proud parents of an over tired, over stimulated child who should have been given a rest earlier in the day). Even if you’ve never seen a Disney movie, there’s plenty to enjoy that’s geared aswalt watching painter much for adults as it is for kids. You can play golf, laze about in a water park, be pampered at a Disney hotel or enjoy a world class meal. In addition, there is a growing number of rides that have height restrictions and are not designed for the youngest amongst us.

The restaurant’s wine list comment about the lines is the third most related complaint in my unofficial survey. I sympathize with those who spend the bettecastle fireworksr part of their Disney theme park vacation on line. However, I believe some flexibility and planning can do a lot to reduce the waits while improving the overall quality of one’s Disney vacation experience. Anyone who books a Disney vacation during a peak attendance period, should be resigned to some lines. If you can avoid those times (there is plenty of advice and statistical analysis on expected crowds across the many Disney fan sites), then, by all means, pick a less obviously busy day or days. Expecting an empty park during school Easter break or between Christmas and New Year’s is like expecting a private showing of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center any day in December.

Even if you can’t or can go any other time, I find it rather amazing that many of the same people who complain about costs for Disney vacations, do little or no planning. People will scour the internet for the cheapest airfares, hotels and rental cars. But not doing any planning at all for your time in Parks is just asking for lots of waiting, extra walking, planning-ecardmissed experiences and an overall cranky group of people. If you don’t want to do the planning, there are websites that will help you do it. Some will even ask the age range of the people in your group, whether you want to minimize walking or waiting, hours you want to spend in the park and will consider historical crowd levels to give you a good chance of having an extremely enjoyable time. You can even build in breaks, meals and other special Disney park experiences like parades and fireworks. And there are many well reviewed travel agencies that specialize in planning and arranging Disney vacations from the parks to cruises to Disney adventures. So, don’t stop your planning at plane fare and insure that your hard-earned dollars translate in a vacation that you don’t regret taking.

A Disney vacation is not everyone’s cup of un-birthday tea. Just as climbing Everest or a week of some city’s oldest churches is not going to be at the top of everyone’s list for leisure activity.  Sure, there might be situations where you might not get the best spot for watching a parade, the highly prized meal at Be Our Guest might elude you or keeping everyone in your group happy means that you don’t get a second ride on Splash Mountain. And there are some extras that are beyond many people’s budgets, like the Chef’s Table at the Napa Rose. But, there are so many other options, I defy anyone to say that there aren’t enough options to make your vacation fun and leave you feeling you’ve gotten good value for your money. With some planning, some thought about what’s most important to you and a little flexibility you’ll not only have a great time, but also experience the unexpected magical pixie dust that makes you feel like you too can fly.

peter pan flying.jpeg

Walt Disney Goes to the Fair

world fair ticketjpgIn last week’s NYC D23 event recap “Behind the Scenes Experience: Magic in Manhattan & More”, I did a quick flyover of Disney’s contributions to the 1964 NY World’s Fair. There’s way more to that story. Just as Walt used the Silly Symphonies shorts to test and perfect animation skills needed for his animated masterpiece, Snow White, he used the NY Fair to improve Disneyland.

Walt grew up at the tail end of the World’s Fair era and probably attended at least one. The Fairs were opportunmoses newsweekjpgities for countries, companies and organizations to offer a taste of current accomplishments and future promise.  Although today you could argue we can get much more from the internet and we don’t have to wait years for it to come to our part of the world.  But, we also don’t get the advantage of being able to “touch” things. But there was a time that cities like NY and Paris would spend tons of money to bring the world to their Fairs. By 1964, fair mania had begun to wane. So, it’s no surprise that when Fair organizer Robert Moses was looking for a sure-fire way to drive attendance, he approached Walt to contribute the Disney touch. Walt jumped in with great enthusiasm. But not just because he liked World’s Fairs.

As usual, I won’t assume all my readers are familiar with the subject matter. So, first a little background on the ’64-65 NY World’s Fair. The brainchild of Moses, the self-styled urban planner, road builder, and master of disaster (couldn’t help let my negative view sneak in), the Fair was intended to last three years, make money for investors, and create a public park as a City legacy. It was billed as an international festival dedicated to “Peace Through Understanding” and a showcase of American industry. Walt even promoted it in a dedicated episode of The Wonderful World of Color called “Disneyland goes to the World’s Fair”.

In typical Disney TV fashion, the episode not only educated us on World’s Fair history, but plugged the Disney attractions. The work on the Fair put an enormous strain on WED, which had been working furiously for four years since Disneyland’s opening, adding new, innovative attractions like the Matterhorn Bobsleds (first steel rollercoaster) and building the world’s 8th largest navy for the Submarine Voyage. Why, then, with the success of Disneyland, would Walt turn his attention away from his latest labor of love?

Walt & Roy

Walt & Roy Disney

Walt may have been motivated to invest heavily in the Fair by two things. First, he was already considering locations for an “East coast” Disneyland and wanted to gauge interest. The “smart” money was saying Eastern intellectuals wouldn’t take to the wholesome entertainment that had drawn millions to Disneyland. Second, Walt’s typically ambitious plans for Disneyland, were, as usual, outpacing funding. Many would, rightfully, argue it was Roy Disney’s financial acumen that helped make everything possible. But, Walt had already proven through the Disneyland TV program deal, that using his instincts he could find ways get what he wanted by using other people’s money.

To maintain control over the Disneyland project, Walt had created a separate company, WED Enterprises (Walter Elias Disney), to do the development. Walt saw an opportunity to get deep pocketed corporations, inexperienced in theme parks, to fund newwed logo technologies and attractions. WED was already staffed with many future Disney legends like John Hench, Rolly Crump, Marc & Alice Davis, Mary Blair, and Bob Gurr who would drive theme park innovation, design and engineering for decades. Walt simply asked them to work on a few more projects. It seems he always made it sound so easy, no one questioned the effort it would take. They just went to work creating miracles.

Ultimately, the Fair drew less people overall than had been expected, lost money and a planned third season was cancelled. But, the popularity of Disney’s four pavilions, Pepsi’s It’s a Small World, GE’s Progressland, (including the Carousel of Progress), Illinoi’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Ford’s Magic Skyway convinced Walt that an Eastern theme park would work. (He probably knew already, but needed to convince others)

As a Disney fan, today, I remember visiting Small World, COP and the Skyway at the Fair as a child (No memory of Lincoln). Little did I know then that the Fair would launch many celebrated innovations that would change theme parks and more forever. Before we get to the pavilion work, I want to mention one of the less celebrated Disney innovations introduced at the Fair, perhaps, more impactful to the world than any of the headliner attractions.

progressland lines

Walt, never let a good problem go to waste. Long waits at Disneyland attractions were commonplace from day one. The Fair, no exception, had similar lines. Walt had his people study the lines at the fair to devise new methods for queue management. In my recent tour of the Fairgrounds in Flushing, NY (see my previous post) I learned that the lines for the COP were crazy long, especially in the hot humid months of July and August. The solution was razing an unfinished building behind the Progressland pavilion and turning it into a covered overflow queue area. This area had the first use of the now familiar switch-back queuing system. Before you dismiss the significance of this creative solution, think about how often you encounter this kind of line system. It’s everywhere there’s a line that needs to be managed.

The four Disney attractions had some common elements that put them, consistently, at the top of everyone’s list of Fair favorites. First, if you keep my queue story in mind, except for Lincoln, which was a stage show, they were designed to maximize rider capacity. Attractions, today, like Small World and Pirates move people through by the hundreds an hour. Early Disneyland’s low capacity rides like The Rainbow Mountain Stagecoach Ride and The Phantom Boats didn’t last long. At the Fair, WED Imagineerssmall world boat tackled capacity issues with the debut of three different ride systems. Small World and Skyway were originally planned as walk-throughs. But, herding large numbers of people efficiently through was not Walt’s of showing off. The Small World boat system, designed by transportation genius, Bob Gurr, proved so efficient that it has been used in other attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and other theme parks.

Small World still moves ‘em through in all of its worldwide incarnations. But, the ride system in the Ford Magic Skyway proved to be even more groundbreaking. The only requirement Ford had was that guests ride in actual Ford cars. Gurr and the WED Ford-Magic-Skywaygeniuses modified the cars so they were individually propelled underneath by a track. Sounds simple now. But, according to a Gurr, the Ford system took longer to design than to build Disneyland. He tells a story that because the cars were different lengths and had no bumpers, around certain turns they would smack into each other. The banging magic skyway carcaused broken lights and damage. The Imagineers solved the problem with track design and a complex set of rules about which cars could be next to each other. And they employed a full time crew of car body repairmen during the run of the Fair to fix damage that still occurred. The Magic Skyway transport system is the grandfather of theme park, dark ride systems and is still used at The Haunted Mansion as well as powering the recent Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure rides in both U.S. parks and many other rides. If you get on a continuously loading ride anywhere with all the cars connected, and it turns as the ride progresses so you face the action, you’re probably riding Skyway’s descendant, an Omnimover or a version of it.

Much of Disney’s early animation success was built on the use of music to enhance the entertainment value of his films. Since Walt viewed theme parks attractions as another story telling method, the second common Fair attraction element was music. The Sherman brothers created two of the most famous ear worms in entertainment history. Both It’s a Small Word After All and It’s a Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow, not only, stick with riders long after exiting the attraction but they artfully reinforce the overall theme of both experiences. Since Walt did not copywrite Small World, his gift to the world has become the most publicly played song of all time.

The ride systems were certainly innovative and continue to be improved upon. Yet, it’s a different gadget that we all have come to love in Disney attractions and in lots of other walt-disney-tiki-roomplaces. Legend has it that the first Audio-Animatronics appeared in the Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963 because of a small mechanical bird Walt found in an antique shop. But, as usual, after simple figures in the Tiki Room and Jungle Cruise, Walt wanted to do more. He used the Fair to apply the patented technology to depicting people. The Lincoln figure turned out to be the most complex, “robot” at the time. It was so convincing, many guests left the show thinking that it was a real actor. AAs are used in many Disney park attractions and other theme parks. There are about 300 figures alone in Small World. Pirates in Disneyland has 53 AA animals, and 75 pirates and villagers. It wasn’t easy lincoln aagetting Lincoln to behave. In fact, the President missed his targeted opening date. Walt had to tell a room full of VIPs that he wouldn’t present the show until it was perfect. Finally, the WED Imagineers solved the problems and the show opened to rave reviews. The same design was used for the COP figures. These days, it’s hard to think of Disney, or, for that matter, many theme parks without thinking about AAs. Decades after their introduction, they continue to be added and improved in new attractions and new theme parks.

cop act 1Everyone at WED who was involved with the Fair has said that while Walt was involved with all the projects, there’s more of Walt in Carousel of Progress than anything WED ever did. The show captured much of the sensibilities with which he infused all his creative work. It has a nostalgic Midwestern feel. The GE sponsorship allowed the characters to celebrate one of Walt’s favorite themes, the march of innovative technology making lives better. The design of the rotating theater was a way to mimic the quick transitions done in film. The Carousel Theater was guest-friendly and efficient enabling the theater sections to entertain six audiences simultaneously. With a new show starting every four minutes no one had to wait for long show to end to enter. WED employees who were around, say Walt put the final touch in place by adding a “weenie”, the dog, to each of the scenes.

Walt also had a giant model of “Progress City” seen through the windows in the last scene, which guests could get a better look at when exiting the theater. Take a look at my posts, The Unfulfilled Promise of E.P.C.O.T. and The Legacy of Walt Disney’s E.P.C.O.T. to learn more about Progress City and Walt’s interests in urban planning and leveraging cop last sceneAmerican industry’s innovative abilities. Walt had already begun buying up land in Florida, so those plans must have been already percolating. You can still sneak a quick peak at a portion of the model of Walt’s ideas for the city of the future when you ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover.

The Magic Skyway had similar city of the future themes, focused on humorous AA scenes of innovation over the centuries, like the invention of the wheel. The Skyway track system concept was used to create the WEDWay PeopleMover ride at Disneyland a few years later and was to be an integral part of Walt’s Prototype Community in Florida. Disney Imagineers also contributed tiny scale models of Scenes from 11 nations, past and present in the International Garden as guests entered the Ford pavilion.

thames model for ford

Always the innovator and always the promoter, Walt saw the Fair as a multi-faceted opportunity dinos in disneylandto extend the Disney brand and worked it out so that Small World, Lincoln and COP would have future homes at Disneyland. Sadly, the only physical part of the Magic Skyway salvaged was the dinosaur AAs, which found a new home in the Primeval World diorama along the Disneyland Railroad.

Much of the work that went into the creation of the attractions continues to impact how theme park entertainment is designed and executed. All the Disney parks around the world except for Shanghai have a version of Small World. And boat ride systems are used in theme parks around the world. The Fair themes of peace and innovative advancement were central to how Disney built his company.  While many of the attractions were designed to educate the public, Disney Fair attractions, made the medicine go down easier by infusing humor such as in COP, whimsy in Small World and wow factor experienced in Lincoln and Magic Skyway. The two years in NY may represent the beginning of the end for what people nostalgically think of when they “remember” World’s Fairs. The contributions of Walt and his magical Imagineers are probably one of the reasons the 1964 Fair remains an iconic example of creativity, innovation and invention.

 

Report on D23’s “Behind the Scenes” NYC Event

D23-logo-official-fan-clubAs a Gold charter member of the D23 Disney Fan club I longingly read accounts of the many member events in California and Florida. Tours of the Disney Studios, Walt’s office, lunch with Imagineers are all things I’d love to do. But, since I live in New York it’s not practical. The D23 organizers have done some wonderful events in NYC. Just last year, I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for the 25th Anniversary showing of Beauty and the Beast at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, where Angela Lansbury sang. Before that the Fanniversary tour landed in NYC with highlights from the Disney archives.

As good as those events were, D23 they cooked up a whole day of fun and interesting experiences for 40 lucky Gold Members this past week in NYC. They called it, “D23 Behind-the-Scenes Experience: Magic in Manhattan & More”. And more it was!

We began the day by joining the rest of an enthusiastic audience at a taping of ABC’s The chew openingChew at studio near Lincoln Center. For my wife, Jackie, and I, it was our first experience at a television taping. We were surprised at how small the set space was, and how many people it takes to create a one hour television show. Cameramen, stage managers, food stylists, cooks, stage hands, sound engineers, a DJ, and lighting technicians were everywhere. As wed23 chew set 3 waited, the 5 stars made their way onto the set, introduced by the comedian, R.C. Smith, who kept us laughing the entire morning as he got us warmed up and taught us how to clap and laugh on cue. Finally, Clinton, Carla, Michael, Mario and Daphne sat down to tape the four segments of a show called Simply Perfect Sweets. They are very relaxed, chatting among themselves while reading segments from the teleprompter, all the while having stage managers waving time warnings in front of them. At the end of each segment, dozens of people appear from doors and behind set pieces, like an ant army, to clean up, add new food ingredients, move cameras, apply makeup, shift lights and more. R.C. kept d23 chew set 2our energy up as we hungrily watched the front row of “tasters” sample the dishes that were prepared by the hosts. Meanwhile, Mario, Clinton and Michael chatted with members of the audience. If you watch the show, you’ll notice that Clinton has a different jacket on for the last segment. He and Executive Producer Gordon Elliot were admiring a coat, worn by an of the audience member, so he exchanged it for the one he was wearing for the last segment. Following the taping, we watched Clinton and Carla do promo spots for use by other ABC programs. Then we took a group photo with the stars.

 

chew photo

d23 event snackAfter giving us some much needed snack bags and a gift bag from The Chew, we boarded a bus for our trip to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Ford23 chew bag those of you who are not aware, Walt Disney and his WED Imagineers created four of the most popular pavilions for the 1964-65 NY World’s Fair. It’s a Small World debuted at the Pepsi pavilion, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was the standout at the Illinois pavilion, GE’s Progressland featured the Carousel of Progress and for Ford Walt created the Magic Skyway. At the Park, we were introduced to Mitch Silverstein, Gary Miller and Stephanie Bohn, volunteers who working to preserve the iconic NY State pavilion (made even more famous by its role in the MIB movie). Mitch ny state towersand another volunteer who happens to be a Disney World guide, took us for a tour of the fairgrounds, pointing out the locations of the Disney designed attractions and telling stories about the fair.

For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip. Walt took advantage of the work at the Fair to push his WED geniuses to invent and perfect much of the technology that continues to be the backbone for many of the Disney theme park attractions. I’ll start with Mr. Lincoln, the invention that ushered in the age of Audio-Animatronics. There are now thousands at Disney and other theme parks around the world. The boat ride through Small World, was a precursor to Pirates of the Caribbean, Frozen Ever After and Living with the Land entertaining thousands of people in a day. And the ride system that guided cars through the Magic Skyway, eventually became the People Mover with similar systems still in use at the Haunted Mansion and Spaceship Earth. As important to Walt, three of the attractions, Carousel, Small World and Mr. Lincoln were added to Disneyland while many of the Audio-Animatraonic figures from Skyway, were re-purposed for other Disneyland attractions.

COP then and nowsmall world then and now

Because of our schedule we didn’t get to the Ford or Illinois locations. We ended our tour of the historic fairground with a very special opportunity to go inside the NY State pavilion. The structure is still in a bad state of repair, hence the hard hats we are all wearing in the picture. You can learn more about the pavilion preservation effort here.

042717_event-recap-NYC pavilion

D23 Unisphere cropped

After a final picture in front of the iconic Unisphere,  we re-boarded the bus and were given the second very special D23 gift, these limited edition reproductions of photos and postcards from the World’s Fair.

d23 vintage postcards

Our next stop was a well needed lunch at Trattoria Dell’Arte in Manhattan, where we enjoyed a three course meal. We also received our third gift, an event inspired picture containing 23 NY/Disney related images and a copy of the special event restaurant menu.

We took the quiz on the bus to guess what the icons represent. If you want to know what all the icons stand for in the image? The answers are here.

d23 event credentialWe took a short bus ride to the Times square area, where we received our next present, a newly designed earhat with the familiar I Love NY logo. We all put them on and took the picture below. With about 30 minutes until our final tour leg, we took our D23 event credential into the Times Square Disney store for a little 50% off shopping spree.

D23 Times Square.jpg

At 4:00 we re-assembled in front of the New Amsterdam Theater. Taylor  told me that this D23 event was inspired by the 20th anniversary of Disney’s re-opening of the theater after a lengthy restoration. On the theater marquee was a special message welcoming D23 Aladdin (1)our group.  Inside, sitting in the front rows of the orchestra where we were treated to a historical overview of the theater from it’s opening in 1903, to its long time use by the Ziegfeld Follies, then a slow decline, along with the rest of 42nd street, in the 1970s, then the theater’s closure and, finally, it’s rebirth as a Disney managed theater. We were led onto the stage, which is now hosting the Broadway version of Aladdin. The many complex workings of automated sets, trap doors and shown walls were explained and we saw many famous visitors who have signed their names on the theater’s walls.

Our next theater stop was a room Ziegfeld used at the back of the orchestra section. In the room, were props and costumes from many of the Broadway shows that Disney has produced, including Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, Little Mermaid, Aida, Lion King and Newsies. We could touch and try on whatever we were found interesting. Some of the popular pieces were the $7,000 dollar lion king masks and props from Mary Poppins.

The day ended with a wonderful cocktail reception in the lower part of the theater where there was wine, beer, soda and delicious tapas. Our final gift, was an Aladdin playbill signed by the cast.

d23 signed aladdin

I can’t say enough about the logistics managed effortlessly by Tyler and Jen Marie. Even with the difficulties of keeping track of such a large group, NYC traffic and the many different stops during a very long day, they remained up-beat, personable and, most of all, fun. Everyone in the group, some had traveled from as far as California, were all great fun. We traded stories, talked about our Disney interests and enjoyed each other’s company during our NYC road trip. My thanks to Tyler, Jen Marie and the D23 organization for putting together one of the most interesting and enjoyable days my wife and I have had in Manhattan.

Have you attended a D23 event? What was your experience like?

Since I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Disney effect on the NY World’s Fair, I’ll use next week’s post to dig deeper into the four attractions that, for many, have become symbols of the historic Fair years.

A Foodie Travels in Walt Disney World

As I plan our vacations, (we’re planning one for Peru right now), once we’ve figured out where we’re going, pick a hotel and book a flight, I usually spend a lot of time choosing restaurants. I love good food and happily return to favorite restaurants and dishes. But, I also like trying new things. On a recent trip to Spain, we ate at our first Michelin three star restaurant, Akalerre, in San Sebastian. Not only was the food great, but it was an akalerre viewexceptional dining experience – impeccable service, beautiful, imaginative plating and a killer view. I know I’m not going to find Michelin starred restaurants at Disney theme parks. But, as an admitted foodie, I still spend considerable hours planning and picking restaurants for our Disney trips. So how does a foodie like me navigate the good, bad and pedestrian at the Disney theme parks? Before I answer, I’d like to offer some Walt Disney context.

Most theme parks before Walt built Disneyland (and still today) offered spartan, self-serve, cafeteria style food locations, with carnival style food – hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, soda and ice cream. I consider this food as fuel, not the pleasurable experience I hope to have when I eat. Those of us who like thrill rides, hold our noses, stand in line and eat purely for energy. Other theme parks like Hershey Park and Busch Gardens Virginia, which I visit now and then to get my roller coaster fix, are beautiful. But, food choices are about convenience and suffering through the best of the worst.

Walt knew that to keep people in Disneyland, and to make maximize his profit, he would have to offer food, snacks and other refreshments. That was just good business. But, that wasn’t enough for Mr. Disney. He extended the same approach he took to attractions and the overall design and beauty of the park to restaurants and snack bars by integrating the eateries into the overall theming of the Land they were in. During the early years, you could go to the Tahitian Terrace in Adventurland or Casa de Fritos in Frontierland. And because he was the first to bring sponsors into a theme park, he managed to present unique food and snack offerings. Early restaurants included Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen (pancakes at a theme park?, check), Welch’s Grape Juice Bar and Sunkist Citrus House (that’s what passed for a healthier choice than soda back then). Take a look at this post from the Disney Food Blog for a more detailed look at early Disneyland restaurants and menus.

As someone who places a lot of importance on food during my vacations, how do I manage in an environment designed to deliver quantity (more than 1.6 million turkey legs are sold each year at Disney World) not necessarily quality? First of all, before you all start screaming at your screens, there is very high quality, inventive food to be found at Walt Disney World. Victoria and Alberts, Jiko and Narcoossees are examples of wonderful places to dine and deserve the high praise they receive, from critics as well as guests. They are also very expensive and should be treated as experiences that should savored and given the time necessarily accorded any fine restaurant. At some point, I hope to visit them all. The Disney theme parks do offer a wide variety of menus and price ranges.

Most of my reservations are for dinners, with the occasional lunch or breakfast, depending on what we have planned for the day. Breakfast is usually eaten at the hotel’s quick service restaurant like The Mara at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Capt. Cook’s at the Polynesian, or a food court, if there is one. Lunch is planned around the park we will be in, or back at the hotel if we are taking a break.

Where then, do I spend my hard earned dollars on food WDW? While quality of food is very important, I tend to gravitate to restaurants that also offer good atmosphere and Sci-Fi_Dine-In_3great theming. Since I live very close to NY City, there really isn’t any kind of food that I can’t eat, almost whenever I want. I can find a good hamburger in many places. But Hollywood Studios is the only place I can eat a good one, sitting in a “car” at The Sci-Fi Drive-In. I can eat a pork or lamb chop in many restaurants, but only at Be Our Guest, can I dine in the Beast’s castle.

I do accept lesser quality and, even, pay a premium for a Disney style experience. Good examples of this are San Angel Inn. At best, the food no better than a chain Mexican restaurant. But entering through the marketplace courtyard sets the scene for the san-angel-inn-restaurante-disney-orlandorestaurant in the same way Main St. USA prepares us for the rest of the Magic Kingdom. That’s pure Walt Disney design. I love the illusion of eating outside, inside, with the stars overhead and the mesmerizing Aztec temple scenery and active volcano. And, while waiting for a table we can take a ride on the delightful Gran Fiesta Tour.

Similarly, I will put up the so-so food, the unnecessary check in line (we all have a reservation) and rushed service at the Hoop De Doo revue. The many large tables to service and they need to get everyone served so the show can start on time makes it tough to provide good service. However, I find the showing funny and charming and, happily, go back again and again.

There’s not much in the Magic Kingdom that I rush to visit. If I’m looking for a fast lunch or late dinner, I’ll go to Columbia Harbour House where you can get some unique offerings like a lobster roll or Hummus. And, although it offers very limited seating, Casey’s Corner has great Hot Dog choices, if that’s what you’re craving.

In Animal Kingdom, the only restaurant I’ve returned to is Flame Tree Barbecue. The BBQ is so-so. But the seating has great views of the water and Expedition Everest. flame tree(Unfortunately, you can no longer sit here and eat a smoked turkey leg. A shame, since you have to eat it on the move everywhere else in WDW).  It’s hard for me to leave without a colossal cinnamon roll from Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery, which I usually take to go and eat later.

Warm-Colossal-Cinnamon-Roll-2-Kusafiri-Bakery

I’ve already mentioned Sci-Fi Dine-In, which is a family favorite. My other favorite at the Studios is the Brown Derby. I love the golden age of Hollywood vibe which fits the general theme of the park. The recreation of the former Hollywood landmark is like going back in time. The service is first rate and, overall, I’ve found the food to be consistently very good. We’ve had some memorable meals at the Derby, including one with my 88 year old father on his first trip to WDW . He told some great stories from his youth about brushes with organized crime, his family’s deli being robbed robbed twice by the same guy and how pinball in the back room was played for money in the 1930’s.

brown derby family

The Kramer family at the Brown Derby 2015

But, I digress. In addition to San Angel, there’s another restaurant, big on theming and smaller on food –Biergarten Restaurant. Once again, the outside, inside feel of being in a German mountain village is magical and you can’t beat the show with your meal. But, biergartenJPGthe food, meh. It’s ok if you like meat and potatoes and mediocre ballpark food. And, other than strudel, what’s with those other desserts. Not exactly like being in Germany. On the brighter side of Epcot food , there’s Restaurant Marrakesh with its raucous
atmosphere, belly dancer and a menu of interesting choices.

marakesh

Moving up the quality food chain, Coral Reef serves up very good seafood and a killer view of that amazing undersea world.

Many of our favorite meals are in the resorts. Anything in Animal Kingdom Lodge gets a slot in our meal lineup. Combine a beautiful resort, with African animals, a great buffet with unusual and well prepared choices at Boma or the very African menu at Jiko and you’re in for a wonderful meal. At the Grand Floridian, we like the bright surroundings and straight forward food at The Grand Floridian Café. The Polynesian attracts us, if we’re not already staying there, for breakfast at Kona Café and the crazy atmosphere and inventive drinks at Trader Sam’s Grotto cocktails and a relaxed meal. Finally, the food and service are top notch at Artist Point at the Wilderness Lodge.

I hope this has been an interesting, thought provoking, albeit very quick tour of some of our favorite food stops in Walt Disney World. Food means different things to people when they are at the WDW Resort complex. For some, it’s quick service fuel to get through the long days. For others, it’s about the characters. For me it’s about good food in interesting surroundings. I, for one, am glad that the Disney people have continued Walt’s fun and integration of food with the environment. In my mind, that’s what sets the Disney theme parks ahead of the rest and the reason I’ll keep going back for seconds.

mickey waffle

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